By Larry Isch, Director of Public Relations Clarksville, Ark.-The 2000 men's soccer season did not start out in encouraging fashion for the U of O Eagles.
Consecutive road losses left the Eagles’ confidence battered and bruised, but head coach Dave De Hart could tell by the way his players responded that the setbacks were not going to be a harbinger of the remainder of the season. "You could tell that those first two losses dazed them a little, and it could have been a killer for us," De Hart said. "But our players got together and said, ‘Let’s forget about those games and start over,’ and that’s exactly what they did. We came back and won the next four games, and that showed me that these guys were something special." The Eagles went on to record the best season in the program’s five-year history. They finished with a record of 15-7-0, earned the No. 1 seed in the American Southwest Conference East Division, and advanced to the championship match of the ASC Tournament, one win away from clinching a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Not bad for a team picked to finish next-to-last in the conference in a preseason poll. "There’s no doubt that being picked at the bottom by the league coaches was an incentive for me and our players," De Hart said. "We had some pretty high expectations as a team, and we saw (the poll) as a lack of respect for our program, our players and our coaches. We wanted to prove them wrong." The Eagles did just that, outscoring their opponents 52-38 and outshooting them 490-235 during a regular season that saw them battle for the conference championship until the very end. They not only advanced to the ASC Tournament for the first time and set a school record for victories in a season, they set numerous team and individual records in the process. "We had a group of players who just decided they were going to do the extra work and training that it took to be a conference contender," De Hart said. "It started last Spring when they worked extremely hard to get better, and it carried over to the Fall. They were dedicated to having a good season." De Hart gave much of the credit for his team’s success to the nine-player senior class, many of whom suffered through a 5-13-1 campaign four years ago as true freshmen. The seniors included Loscar Mejia, Chris Burns, Clint Ponder, Matt David, Jeff Jackson, Eric Steinmiller, Paul Hiemke, Michael Coffey and Jacob Moldenhauer. "Those guys went through some lean years, but they continued to work hard and believe in the program," De Hart said. "They deserve a ton of the credit for helping get this program on its feet, and I’m extremely glad that they got to see their hard work pay off. It’s also a great lesson for our younger players. They’ve seen firsthand the kind of success that can be accomplished with hard work." The Eagles placed four players on the American Southwest Conference All-East Division team, which was released recently by the conference office. Ricky Herrera, a freshman forward from Las Cruces, New Mexico; Armando Vergara, a junior forward from Modesto, Calif.; Marcos Gonzalez, a junior forward from Georgetown, Texas; and Jeff Jackson, a senior defender from Wagoner, Okla., were all named to the ASC East Division Team. Herrera led the Eagles with 10 goals and also scored a team-high 23 points. Vergara played in all of the Eagles’ 22 matches and scored two goals and two assists. Gonzalez, the school’s all-time goal scorer, finished with six goals and 10 assists. Jackson, a four-year starter, had seven goals during the regular season. In addition to all-division honors, Herrera was named the ASC East Division Freshman of the Year. De Hart was named the division’s co-Coach of the Year.