Men’s soccer team keeps the faith alive for the upcoming season

Lauren Clapper | Staff Writer

For men’s soccer coach Aidan Heaney, a levelheaded and dedicated approach to coaching has been the key to success for a team that was once at the bottom of its league.

“I decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this right,” Heaney said.

Heaney, 42, a native of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, arrived at UNCW in 2001. He was offered the position to transform the soccer program while he was the coach of Appalachian State’s team. Up to that point, UNCW’s men’s team consistently lost more games than it won.

Heaney began rebuilding the team by recruiting new players. Thanks to his previous job as a coach for the North Carolina Olympic development team, he knew a multitude of young players who would be a good fit for the team.

“We had talented players, but we also had the sense that they were good kids for the program,” he said. “It was harder to convince them to take a leap of faith when you had nothing to base it on. They had to show some faith that, yes, they were willing to come on board.”

Starting his first season in 2001 with a roster of nine freshmen, Heaney saw improvements from the start.

“We saw changes right away,” he said. “We changed the whole expectations of the program. It wasn’t just that [the players] showed up to training, but it was also their lifestyle, how they lived.”

From 2001 on, the men’s soccer team has steadily risen to the top of the CAA. In 2003 the Seahawks reached the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament for the first time in two years, and in 2004, Heaney was awarded with the CAA Coach of the Year Award.

In 2009, the team received their second conference regular season title and won their first CAA championship. That year, they also played in the NCAA tournament, reaching the second round. Heaney attributes these successes to the good character and strong ethic of the players, describing them as mentally tough.

During this past season, however, due to injuries taking out two of the team’s key players, the Seahawks did not perform as well as they had in previous years. They did not reach the CAA conference, finishing the 2011 season 4-12-2.

Yet despite this disappointing year following consistent improvement for nearly a decade, Heaney maintains his steadfast style. When asked about this past season, he confidently brushed it off, accepting it as part of the game.

“I think it was one of those years,” he said. “You evaluate everything. And the thing that I keep coming back to was that we had a fairly large freshman class; I don’t think everyone was quite on board and pushing in the same direction.”

Yet he did not let this intimidate or deter him. The same drive that kept players pushing to improve the team in 2001 is alive today, due in part to a combination of Heaney’s ability to faciliate excellence and, more importantly, confidence in his players.

“It made me more driven,” he said. “You just have to keep the faith that, even though [the team] wasn’t good enough last year, we can make it right.”

After the season ended, the players received a week off and before they began conditioning and training for the 2012 season, taking a break only during summer vacation. The result was a vast improvement in group dynamic and chemistry between the players.

This, according to Heaney, was something already inherent in the athletes’ abilities. As a coach, he merely facilitated the talent within the team, drawing out the best in them.

In addition to training, one of the things Heaney said never fails to bolster the team’s spirits and performance is support from the university.

“When you’re playing at home, you love to have the advantage of the home support,” he said. “It does make a difference when you know your fellow students, faculty and staff support you. It really gives the players a lift. We want to put a good product on the field that [the school] can be proud of.”

The team’s next home game will be September 14 against Saint Mary’s.