Sophomore midfielder Jack Mangan’s goal off a pass from freshman attackman Brenden McCarthy with one second left in regulation not only completed a 6-5 win for Mount St. Mary’s against visiting Bryant on Saturday, but it also put the team in an unfamiliar position.
The Mountaineers earned a victory in their Northeast Conference opener for the first time since April 2, 2011, when that squad edged Robert Morris, 12-11. That was also the last time the program captured the league’s regular-season and tournament crowns, and coach Tom Gravante called Saturday’s outcome “very important.”
“If you look back at our history here, it’s been a while since we opened with an NEC win, and that was a good year,” he said. “It [2010-2011] was a great year. I’m very excited about this, very pleased because it puts us ahead. You’ve got to go at least 3-3 in the conference to get to the playoffs. I’ve set realistic and attainable goals for our guys, and that’s what I want to do. I want to get to the playoffs.”
Mount St. Mary’s (2-4 overall and 1-0 in the conference) is tied with NEC tournament champion 2016 Hobart and Robert Morris for the league lead. Mount beat a Bulldogs squad that had won four of the past five conference titles. But Gravante said he is curious to see how the players respond to the success of winning their last two games when they travel to meet the Colonials (5-3, 1-0) on Saturday.
“I’ve been here before, and really to validate that win and to make sure that we’re for real, we need to go to Robert Morris and battle and win,” he said. “We have to battle in that game from start to finish to have a chance to win it. Obviously, the celebration post-game was pretty great for our guys, but once we settled down, we really needed them to understand that it was just one game, and there are five more [in the league] to go. We said we have to go to Robert Morris and take care of business.”
Despite a four-game losing streak to open the season, the Mountaineers are two wins away from improving to .500, and Gravante said he thinks the players are aware of how close they are to turning the season around.
“I think they understand where we could be as a team in the next 10 days,” he said. “There’s a good chance we could even up the record at 4-4. We’ve got Robert Morris on Saturday and then we travel down Monday night to play VMI on Tuesday. It’s all going to transition from practice and their approach and their commitment, and that’s our job as a staff to help them stay on point. I hope the confidence is there, but we don’t want them overconfident.”