There are some losses that just sting and stay with players long after they have stepped off the field, and that is exactly what UMBC men's soccer head coach Pete Caringi and his team have had to deal with for the past nine months.
It was a great accomplishment for last year's Retrievers team to make it to the America East championship game. They had traveled almost nonstop for about two weeks, grabbing a double-overtime tie to close out the regular season and a shootout victory to kick off their postseason run. They eventually ended the season by battling for the conference crown against New Hampshire.
The magic UMBC had found in its two playoff wins ran out against the Wildcats, though, as the constant travel finally caught up to the Retrievers, who fell, 5-0. But that loss is going to be the springboard into this year, and it looks like the team has the tools it needs to make a splash.
"It kind of burns in your memory, and it's one of the reasons to train all summer long to try and get back to that game and hopefully get a better result," Caringi said on
Glenn Clark Radio
The 2019 UMBC squad is an experienced group that features 18 players coming back from last year's championship run. One of those players is senior back Jon Bell, who is on the Mack Herman watch list after earning first-team All-Northeast Region and second-team All-America East honors.
Caringi sees the Silver Spring, Md., native as someone who is going to continue to anchor the team's defense this year.
"I think he's one of the best backs in the country," Caringi said. "He's a guy who has continued to get better every year that he's been there. I thought he had a phenomenal year last year. For me, I think he's an MLS prospect, and if he continues the track that he's been playing and training and training, he'll be playing in the MLS this time next year in my opinion."
Bell is part of a six-player senior class that has seen a mixed bag of success for the past three seasons. UMBC went 5-9-3 record and zero wins in the conference in 2016.
"When they came in the first year, they kind of struggled," Caringi said of a team that only scored 16 goals in 2016. "But each year, we got progressively better."
The Retrievers will also have a mix of young players, one being sophomore goalkeeper Quantrell Jones, who brings energy and talent to the team. Jones had a standout rookie season in which he earned a starting role with his size, quickness and lockdown work between the pipes. In 13 games with the Retrievers last year, he had 36 saves and five shutouts, and he surrendered just 14 goals all season.
Caringi said in an area that produces talented players, Jones (Kenwood High) is one of the best goalkeepers to come out of the Baltimore area in a long time.
"I can't say enough about him," Caringi said. "The kid's just a winner, and for him play goal for us and only be a sophomore says a lot. He really has performed at such a high level."
With a combination of the seasoned veterans and youth, the Retrievers will try to get back to where the team was in 2014 when it made a run all the way to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. UMBC hasn't made it to the tournament since then, and making another magical run is what fuels Caringi every year.
"That's what drives me," Caringi said. "It's what moved me to next year. When I don't have that itch, I probably won't be coaching anymore. But every year I have the itch to want to go back and win a championship. I think you always get that itch because when you get in the tournament ... anything can happen."
Caringi believes the momentum from previous years is what drives players and coaches to do better in the following season. And that's what he's hoping will happen this year. Players who want to stop looking at pictures from the 2014 team and make their own legacy with the team can do so this year, according to Caringi.
"That's what has to drive every play," Caringi said. "If not, they're definitely in the wrong program."
For more from Caringi, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of UMBC Athletic Communications