Success is often measurable only in the eye of the beholder.
There may not be dramatic improvement in a team's record or an individual's statistics, but there are still positives on which to build.
That's the way it is with the men's soccer team at Harford Community College.
Last year, Kevin Cromwell's first year as head coach, the team went 1-15, often going scoreless, and losing most of its games by five or six goals.
This year, there has been a dramatic improvement in the talent and the caliber of play. After Friday night's 2-0 win over Catonsville Community College, the team boasted a 4-7-0 record.
"There is a perception that junior college soccer is Division IV -- below the level of the I-II-III divisions of the NCAA, and that's just not true," Cromwell said. "A lot of kids that go to junior colleges can play, but for one reason or another don't go to a four-year program.
"Some may not be quite ready to take that step, but they are still skilled players. In our region, for instance, we have some of the best teams and the best players [in the National Junior College Athletic Association]."
Over the years, Harford CC was often the public whipping boy for the rest of the teams in the Maryland Junior College Conference. There were some double-digit losses, and although the Owls upset nationally ranked Essex Community College a couple of years ago, such occasions were few and far between.
"Last year, we were losing games 5-0, 6-0. This season, of our losses, five have been by a goal each," Cromwell said.
Three players are back from last year's team -- Daryl Alexander, Matt Constantine and John Brock -- and Cromwell enjoyed a good recruiting year. The result is nine of his 16 first-year players have committed for next year, and as the coach said, "Now, if we can get some of the local talent, next year we'll be beating some of these teams."
One of the keys to building a successful program was staying in the better of the two Maryland JuCo divisions for men's soccer.
"I fought to stay in Division I," Cromwell said, "because you like to play the best and this helps our recruiting. Part of our attraction is our facilities and playing more than half of our games against teams usually in the JuCo top 20."
This year's road to improvement began with a vastly improved attitude on the part of the players. "It's upbeat, and there is a high confidence level," Cromwell said.
"We beat Dundalk, and dominated Hagerstown and Catonsville, but had some breakdowns. At least we are learning from our mistakes, and we're a better team than we were at the start."
Brock (Bel Air) cited Cromwell as chiefly responsible for instilling this attitude.
"Last year, he showed so much heart and he wouldn't give up," Brock said. "He showed us you need not only skills but heart to play, and now we have more skilled players that think the same way."
Brock and Alexander indicated the community college scene took them by surprise.
"There's a big difference from high school. This is 90 minutes of intensity," said Alexander (Havre de Grace).
Brock said: "If I had gone to a four-year school, I probably would not have gotten playing time. I joked around a lot in high school, but here I've taken it more seriously. I have a 3.4 class average and the discipline and experience in soccer."
Newcomers Kevin Shols and Sean Berry (C. Milton Wright and a red-shirt year at Ohio Wesleyan before coming home) have seen the team members come together this fall and play as a cohesive unit.
"Our passing is a lot better, and I believe we've just been unlucky in not winning some of the games," said Shols.
Freshman Brian Brewer (C. Milton Wright) was aware of last year's record and came anyway.
"I goofed around in high school, but Kevin talked to me about coming here, and told me it would be different. It's harder than I thought it would be, and the soccer is on a higher level," Brewer said.
Although American-born, Cromwell brings a European background to the Harford scene, as he learned to play soccer in Italy and more recently spent parts of four summers playing in Europe.
"That's where I got the experience to coach at this level," Cromwell said. "We're developing a team concept -- looking for each other in an organized, controlled game.
"Still, the most important thing is for the players to enjoy themselves, have a good experience, and learn to play better."