MORGANTOWN — Dan Stratford didn’t stroll off the pitch at Dick Dlesk Stadium Tuesday evening feeling he had simply seen an elite efficiency.
“We have been reminded that we’re human,” the WVU males’s soccer coach mentioned after the Mountaineers held on for a 1-0 victory in opposition to Dayton. “We have been reminded that we are able to nonetheless have an off day as properly.”
But it’s the nationwide polls that say the Mountaineers are in elite standing; a No. 2 rating within the TopDrawerSoccer ballot is the best rating ever for the lads’s program.
“We’ve obtained the goal proper on our backs,” is the best way senior midfielder Luke McCormick tells it. “We’ve at all times been the underdog earlier than. Now, everybody goes to present us their finest shot.”
Early in his fourth season at WVU, Stratford isn’t precisely in an unknown place.
It was simply two years in the past when WVU obtained sizzling on the proper time of the season and made a magical run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA event.
The issue was, the Mountaineers didn’t observe up on that final season, ending 7-7-4 after being ranked No. 6 within the preseason.
“We felt prefer it was a meteoric rise in 2021,” Stratford started. “You allow that season and also you’re No. 6 the subsequent 12 months, however we hadn’t finished something to earn it.”
The Mountaineers (6-0-1) have earned all the things to date this 12 months behind a protection that has allowed simply three targets and a sophomore capturing star in ahead Marcus Caldeira, who was held with no level for simply the primary time this season.
They’re ranked No. 1 within the Scores Share Index (RPI), whereas beating No. 3 Portland and drawing in opposition to No. 5 UCF.
“I believe with this rating and what we’ve finished this season, it feels slightly extra genuine,” Stratford mentioned. “We’ve earned it. We’ve performed some actually good groups and we’ve had some improbable outcomes.”
How WVU obtained here’s a story seen earlier than in school athletics. There was the shock run in 2021, adopted by disappointment a season later.
Via all of it, Stratford saved constructing, recruiting and promoting himself and his means of taking part in the sport.
He’s constructed WVU via a world contact. The roster is represented by 12 completely different international locations, stretching from as shut as Canada and as distant as Australia and Japan.
“Recruiting is only one a part of it,” McCormick mentioned. “He’s introduced in good gamers, but it surely’s the tradition he’s constructed right here and the chemistry he’s constructed on this staff that brings out the most effective in us.”
Getting guys from all around the world to come back collectively to go from being unranked at the beginning of the season to No. 16, then No. 4 and now No. 2 in lower than a month, McCormick mentioned that really started earlier than a single ball was kicked this season.
“We went on a white-water rafting journey this summer season. That was the scariest factor I’ve ever finished earlier than in my life,” mentioned McCormick, who hails from England. “That’s the kind of staff actions we do this introduced this staff collectively. That’s the kind of tradition that’s constructed right here.”
And so now the query is requested: Can WVU keep among the many elite and make a run at a nationwide title?
It gained’t be simple. It by no means is, particularly in a Solar Belt Convention that compares somewhat favorably to the SEC in school soccer.
The league boasts three groups within the prime 5, together with No. 1 Marshall, giving the state of West Virginia the highest two groups within the nation.
“It’s cool,” Stratford mentioned. “It’s form of cool if you take a look at it within the second. It’s cool for the state. I don’t suppose both of us will spend an excessive amount of time taking a look at it now. The target is to nonetheless be there on the finish of the 12 months.”
And that’s the purpose for WVU, particularly because it has been all of a sudden boosted into the nationwide soccer highlight. The trick is remaining there.
“The communication and the message to the gamers is that they need to personal it as properly,” Stratford mentioned. “There’s a sense of accountability that comes with being a higher-ranked staff.
“We at all times felt one of many largest challenges after 2021 is sustaining it. This system must develop that sort of expectation, that borderline conceitedness, in that we at all times imagine we’re a prime 10 staff 12 months after 12 months.”