After last season's Augusta State soccer team bottomed out in conference play, coach Ron Keller went to the chalkboard with eraser in hand.
The Jaguars were hit hard by injuries and ended the year with a 6-12-2 mark and winless (0-6-1) in the Peach Belt. This was surprising from a team that went 17-5, finished second in the conference and ended the year with a No. 20 national ranking in 1998.
"I hate to lose," Keller said. "I probably don't handle it very well sometimes. There was a point where I was lost for answers. As a coach, that's my responsibility to find ways to win with what you're dealt with."
How bad was it for the Jaguars last season? The team started the season with 26 players and ended it with 13.
Among the team injuries, there were three broken legs, two knee injuries, a hip injuryand a back injury.
"We had five guys starting in a conference game that didn't even make our travel roster at the beginning of the year," Keller said. "If you can't make the top 18, but you're starting in conference play five weeks later, that's a big difference."
Only 11 players return from last year, including five starters. Those starters include midfielders Scott Montgomery and Ryan Marshall, forward Eddie Centurion, defender Kevin Hume and goalie Mike Raedy.
Montgomery won Peach Belt Player of the Week and then broke his leg in the third game of the season against Pfeiffer College. From there, the injuries waxed and the season of promise waned.
"I don't think we started the exact same 11 in any two games last year," Keller said. "It wasn't out of coaching decisions. It was out of necessity."
A nine-game losing streak in the middle of the season heightened team frustrations as players and Keller accounted for 38 yellow cards and three red cards.
"It started with injuries, and from injuries came losses, and from losses came frustration," Hume said. "From that, came the season we had. That's why there's only eight returning players. He wanted to start with a clean slate."
So Keller added junior college first-team All Americans in midfielder Eric Bass and defender Richard Proctor. Other key newcomers include forwards Keith Borwick and Rodney Perry along with defenders Willie McGowan and former Greenbrier standout Bates Harison.
"With the talent we have, I'd be surprised if we weren't in the national tournament," Hume said. "Talent-wise, we're one of the best teams in the country."
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