These are heady times indeed for members of the George Mason University soccer team.
The Patriots' 12-0 record has earned the team 11th place in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's rankings of major colleges and universities. With only five games remaining in their season, the players hope to receive a bid to play in the NCAA national tournament.
This year, opponents ranging from the the University of Pittsburgh to VPI and Richmond have fallen to the Patriots' stingy defense and explosive offense. Through its first 10 games, the GMU team allowed just one goal while scoring 39. The lone goal against goalkeeper Ken Bernstein came in the fifth game on a penalty shot by an Old Dominion University player. By contrast, 13 George Mason players have scored at least once this season.
Still, head coach Dick Broad and his players aren't satisfied. "I don't really have the time during the season to think about it the team's record ," Broad says. "There's always the next game to prepare for. After we win the NCAA tournament, I'll say we really gelled."
Midfielder Colin Kerr adds: "We're a determined team, not a spectacular team. We work together and we work hard."
The Patriots, an usually well-coordinated team, have lulled opponents with short passes among midfielders Kerr, Fred Thompson and Adolfo Alvarez and then blasted a long ball to striker Carlo Bosco, who has scored three goals, or other forward line players such as Mike Jung, who has scored six, or Tom McVey, who has scored two. When opposing teams start watching for the long pass, the midfielders pick up the scoring; Kerr leads the team with eight goals, Thompson has five and Alvarez, three.
Backing up the aggressive offense is a tenacious group of fullbacks led by Scott Shiffert and Bob Tershak and goalkeeper Bernstein.
But the players agree that the catalyst behind the team is Broad, who has coached at GMU for seven years and whom the players most often describe as "intense."
"He puts a lot of emphasis on winning," says Bernstein, a 19-year-old sophomore. "There's a lot of pressure. It's like a job, really, especially when you're on scholarship. You practice three hours a day and play two games a week."
Freshman winger John McIntyre, 18, chuckles when asked to describe Broad: "You might say he is intense. That put pressure on me at the beginning; it was an adjustment. He yells a lot from the sidelines, but you learn to focus on your play."
"He knows the game," McIntyre says of Broad. "He gives out his knowledge well and the team picks it up well."
Kerr, a junior, says, "He doesn't take any team lightly. He has extensive scouting reports on other teams and he teaches us to go after their weaknesses. He drives us hard in practice. We know he doesn't like to lose, and that carries over into the team."
Broad, 35, is aware of his reputation of wanting to win; in the past, he says, he allowed soccer to consume even his private life.
"I haven't always been good at concentrating on other things or other people," Broad says. "For a long time the game took up 16, 17, 18 hours a day. . . . I won some honors, I coached in the Senior Bowl, but those things didn't make me the person I wanted to be."
Broad says he is gradually changing his approach to his team by balancing his work with his personal life. "Our value as human beings is not measured simply by winning and losing," Broad said, "but by what we put toward the game and what we give to other people."
Kerr, in his third season under Broad, said he has seen a change in him. "He has calmed down," Kerr says. "Oh, he still yells sometimes, but now we the players get around it by joking or not listening."
Broad is eager to give his players credit for the team's performance this season. "They do it; they deserve the credit. I'm fortunate to be associated with these guys."
But Kerr says that Broad's record of over .700 is the best indicator of his coach's success: "He's brought this team from almost nothing to a national ranking.