This article is re-posted from a Sept. 14, 2021 article by Cody Elliott in the Daily News-Record. Photos by Daniel Lin, DN-R
As his teammates celebrated around the bench behind him, Schuyler Harmison stood with his hands on his hips and pondered a bit before revealing an answer.
Fresh off a 5-0 victory over Hargrave Military Academy on Tuesday at home, the Eastern Mennonite boys soccer program has now put together six straight wins.
The biggest reason why, according to Harmison? There are no egos.
“A flip has been switched on our team,” said the senior goalkeeper Harmison. “We have more of a team atmosphere and we’re more positive. We really, really just want to go out and play soccer and that’s something that’s been different from years past for us. Two years ago, I was on this team and we were just as talented but this group of guys — we love playing soccer together and we work well together. We’ve started really working hard and it’s showing now.”
Since falling to non-conference opponent Seton in their season opener on Aug. 21, the Flames have reeled off six consecutive victories, including the past two over Virginia Independent Conference opponents New Covenant and Hargrave.
On Tuesday, Logan Weaver, Ezra Miller, Luga Samson, Tyler Mast and Joshua Early all scored as part of a five-goal second half for EMS in the victory.
“We’re able to find the open man and the runners and get creative and find those plays to get open goals,” Flames senior midfielder and captain Tyler Shank said. “The thing that sets us apart from other teams is that we worked really hard at the beginning of the season to build our fitness up. In the second half, when other teams are getting tired, we’re really ramping up things up.”
The Flames have been able to score in bunches this season with three players tallying at least four goals and nine hitting the back of the net at least once.
Despite 11 freshmen, Eastern Mennonite hasn’t looked inexperienced this year.
“We have a lot of youth on the team and I like the freshness that it brings,” Flames third-year coach Ryan Eshleman-Robles said after Tuesday’s victory. “It’s nice to have a bunch of guys to build something with. We have leadership at the top of our team with seniors and upperclassmen and they understand what it means to miss a season, so they’re hungry and excited to show guys what it’s about. It’s a good mixture of youth and experience.”
Despite now being in his third year, technically, as the boys soccer coach at EMS, Eshleman-Robles said it feels like he’s starting over a bit this season.
After taking over the program in 2019 and never having a chance to go through an entire offseason with the players, the 2020 season was cancelled.
Now, two years later, Eshleman-Robles said he’s starting to see progress.
“It feels like we’re starting all over again,” Eshleman-Robles said. “We’re not even rebuilding, just building. We had some ground and had to figure out what to do with it. The guys bring that excitement and the want of new traditions. I think they’re appreciating every moment, knowing we didn’t have that before.”
For players like Harmison, losing the 2020 season was a bit of an eye-opener.
“I can remember last fall and missing out on my soccer season was pretty rough,” Harmison said. “I can remember my first time getting out for preseason this summer and I was just so stoked to be out here again. I think that has carried over for us. It never really feels like a job. It’s a lot of fun for us and we’ve all just been eager to come out and play as well as we have been.”
Starting in August, the Flames committed to turning the program around.
Now, with wins in six of their first seven, they’re trending toward doing so.
And, more importantly, the EMS players said they’re doing it together.
“We’ve worked hard for this,” Flames senior Elias Stoll said. “All of the younger guys are really excited. We just want to keep on winning. We’re already looking forward to our next match.”