SHERIDAN — It was a rough end, but a good one.
“If you have 12 credits, be ready to play,” Sheridan College men’s head soccer coach Austin Albers joked on the sidelines Saturday. His roster dwindled to 13 players as the Generals worked to nip their final Region IX opponent at Maier Field.
And unlike much of their season, Tanner Alseike’s first-half goal that pushed SC past Western Wyoming College was a thing of beauty. Jordan Webb hit a free kick into the area from near the right sideline, where Alseike got a touch on the ball in front of his defender, the ball floating over the keeper into the far corner of the net. The men played to a 2-0 loss against Laramie County Community College Friday. It was a respectable result, to any knowledgeable soccer fan, against what was the top team in Region IX this season.
Behind on recruiting, ripe in the college game, the Sheridan College soccer programs played catch up all season. Saturday, they finished on top.
“Overall it was a big learning experience for me as a coach and then for our guys as well,” Albers said. “We showed a lot of resiliency and toughness. We had some weeks where we had players go down and we lost key guys. They showed a lot of heart just rallying around each other and coming together as a team. I felt like we improved every game, and to get a win at the end of year.”
While they won’t make the Region IX playoffs, a 1-0 win as a season finale for a team that finished 3-12 overall, was an accomplishment Saturday.
Meanwhile, the women’s team was as tough a defensive opponent as any closing the year. Over their last five home games, they narrowed results and showed vast improvement as they stymied teams fighting for playoff spots. They finished with a slough of 1-goal losses, and a then a 0-0 draw Saturday with WWCC.
The Lady Generals did their part, winning ugly at times, but earning those similar results against teams with more pace and that same recruiting advantage.
Adding injury on both sides, the no-quit efforts were maybe even more impressive. Sophomore day festivities Saturday recognized departing players from the first-year program. Sheridan natives, General Braydon Drell and Lady General Hartley Stewart, watched their final games standing in knee braces from the sidelines, each with torn ACLs.
“We’ll have a few key guys that we have to replace,” Albers said.
Sheridan native Hunter Reece finished his career Saturday after transferring to the Generals.
“Getting out and recruiting hard will be important, and then building off this freshman class,” Albers added. “We have a huge group of freshman. We’re going to hit the weights in the offseason, building these guys up and getting ready for next year.”
Fans who came out to watch the Generals through their brief stretch of home games this month saw the physical play and higher level of the game in Sheridan — but it was not a contest that seemed out of reach for the players in baby blue jerseys, girls and guys, despite their youth and inexperience.
Through October, teams managed to salvage seasons and leave with the respect of their opponents who had defeated them often by three-nil marks on the road in September.
“Since we don’t make the tournament, I told them before the game (Saturday), either we get to win our last game or the team that wins it all does,” Albers said.
After the programs were started in January, and coaches hired in late spring, they didn’t have a full year of development with sophomores, and even more importantly a complete recruiting cycle. Albers believes that’s where the biggest step can be taken next year.
“I think recruiting is a big thing, especially at this level, going out and finding the right kids that can come in and impact the program,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and find some guys that are going to push our guys that are starting now. Just having an offseason with this group is really going to help us out. Coming in a lot of them are just coming out of high school, they didn’t know what to expect at this level.
For the Lady Generals, it was a similar story.
“I thought we finished well, every game at home was an entertaining game for the fans to watch, the games were one goal apart or less,” Lady Generals head coach Stefan Skillman said.
He added that the biggest factor he saw for them in the stats, was that they didn’t get enough shots on goal despite defending very well.
They’ll lose Stephany Sessions, Whitney Gifford and Stewart, players that will obviously leave holes needing to be filled on the field, Skillman pointed out.
“We already have three committed for next year, we’ve definitely got a good jump in recruiting, but have to fill shoes,” he said. “Those are big shoes to fill up front, Steph Sessions, she did a great job. She was also a great team leader off the field. She helped shape the way the team was growing.
“Whitney Gifford did an excellent job at left back and along with Stewart at right back,” Skillman said, adding that they’ll need to find players who can stop runs up the wings, something that their opponents liked to do this season.
It’s tough to qualify for the playoffs in the Region IX women’s division, with just four of the six teams getting in last year, and Sheridan being the seventh to the division this season. With a lot of 1-0 games across the board, Skillman feels good about their direction with a solid goalie like Jacey Repsis returning, fast defenders and smart, holding midfielders.
He hopes with a few more scoring threats up front, they can put themselves into the mix.
“Even if you look at our record (0-12-1), six of those games we lost by 1 and one we tied 0-0,” he said. “Any of those games, one of our shots goes in, you have a whole different situation.
“It will be good to work with them in the offseason,” Skillman added. “They will have to learn the expectations of college soccer. Some of them didn’t have offers other places, and they were grateful to get the opportunity but realize they have work to do. I’ve already heard the girls say they want to be better in the next year.”