Like most coaches, UMBC men's soccer head coach Pete Caringi does everything in his power to help his team move on from a win or a loss and focus on the next game.
So if you can get him to crack even a little a smile when talking about his team midway through its season, you know something special must have happened.
"I knew that our schedule included games against very good programs, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to play three teams in a row that were ranked and undefeated," he said, adding a slight chuckle. "I don't think since I've been here, in soccer or for UMBC athletics in general, we've had any such run. The players understood the challenge and handled it really well."
The Retrievers prepare to enter the heart of their America East Conference schedule coming off perhaps the best regular-season stretch in program history. UMBC enters the Oct. 7 conference game at Binghamton having faced three straight ranked and unbeaten teams and with a 2-1-1 mark against ranked foes.
The Retrievers tied top-ranked Maryland, 1-1, in front of a record crowd at Retriever Soccer Park Sept. 26, and then opened conference play with a 1-0 victory at No. 12 New Hampshire Sept. 20. Before that, UMBC lost at home to No. 12 Western Michigan, 2-0, Sept. 23. UMBC faced another undefeated, ranked team Sept. 13, knocking off then-No. 19 West Virginia, 3-1, in Catonsville, Md.
UMBC's record against ranked opponents is the best in program history and has drawn national attention. The Retrievers were ranked 16th in the latest Soccer America Division I poll, and sophomore back Trey Vinson was named to the Top Drawer Soccer National Team of the Week for his efforts against Maryland and New Hampshire.
Although UMBC has been nationally ranked eight times during Caringi's 26-plus seasons at the helm, it's the first time UMBC has landed in the rankings since 2015. And while Caringi is thrilled at the attention and how his team has responded after a somewhat disappointing 2016, he knows the most important stretch lies ahead.
"With how good our league is, the goal all along -- regardless of how we performed against those ranked teams -- was to be playing our best soccer going into conference play," Caringi said. "I've really stressed how important these games are."
The America East, which concluded last season ranked as the nation's third-best conference, currently has four teams listed among the nation's top 60, according to the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index.
"Right now the team is really confident," sophomore right back Jon Bell of Silver Spring, Md., said, "but you never want to be too confident. The key to any good team is to remain humble and focus on the No. 1 goal, which is the conference championship."
With his team off to a 6-2-2 start, Caringi spoke glowingly of the Retrievers' play along the back line and in goal. In addition to Vinson's national recognition as a defender, freshman goalkeeper Ciaran O'Loughlin recently was named America East Rookie of the Week.
After years of negotiating the ebb and flow of a soccer season, Caringi knows just how to redirect his team's focus and energy after big wins.
"This week I will show them tape of things that they can improve on and make sure that we have a great week of practice," Caringi said. "I will really stress with them the importance of working hard and preparing for Saturday without looking back. Monday they were still excited about what had happened over the weekend, but I quickly made sure they snapped out of that."
With his experience guiding the Retrievers to a memorable run to the NCAA College Cup semifinals in 2014, Caringi knows the balanced formula necessary to play deep into November and wants to see his team continue to improve offensively to take some pressure off of his strong defense.
"Really good teams get goals from a lot of different players," he said. "I'd like to see us improve in that area. When teams rely on one goal-scorer, opponents will start to focus on that guy, and it doesn't always work. We will work on getting better with that every single day right up until the last practice of the season."
Gregg Hauck, a senior from Linthicum, Md., who scored the lone goal against Maryland and is tied for the team lead with three goals, concurs with his coach.
"We need to get better at the little things offensively and get back into having the offensive power we showed early in the season," he said. "We got a lot of corners and a lot of shots early, and in the last couple of games we didn't get that many chances. We just really need to work hard at getting those chances and scoring opportunities."
It's evident Caringi's players have bought into what he preaches on a daily basis.
"As a team, the national ranking is not something we are going to boast about," Bell said. "It's a great feeling, but when we step on the field it doesn't mean anything unless we put the work in to be successful."
Added Hauck: "We know that we haven't done anything yet to reach our goal of a championship. We've got great momentum going into conference play, but we are all well aware there's still a lot of work to be done."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of UMBC Athletic Communications