Patrick Henry Community College men’s soccer coach Brennan Murphy said everything that has happened with his team this season has been a “pleasant surprise,” to say the least.
Murphy said the Patriots originally missed out on about 50 percent of the recruiting class for the 2021 season due to international travel restrictions with VISAs and COVID.
But instead of having a down year like Murphy sort of expected, the team had the best season in school history, going 6-2-1 and winning the Region X regular season championship. The Patriots’ only losses this season were to Louisburg in the Region X tournament championship, and Daytona State, the No. 3 seed in the NJCAA Division I national championship tournament.
Last week, the Patriots were rewarded for their 2021 efforts by receiving an at-large bid into the NJCAA Division II national championship tournament for the first time in school history.
“I can’t speak highly enough about the players the we have and the way they’ve grown and developed because if we were ever supposed to have a down season it was definitely going to be this one and they’ve done the exact opposite,” Murphy said by phone last week. “I don’t think anybody expected that. So words can’t express how proud I am… And all the credit to the guys. They really poured their heart into this and they deserve all of it.”
Murphy and the Patriots left on Wednesday to travel to Wichita, Kansas where the tournament will be played. As the No. 8 seed among 12 teams, they’ll play their first game of the tournament on Sunday against No. 12 Muskegon Community College.
Here’s more of what Murphy said to the Bulletin last Friday.
Bulletin: When did you find out you all had made the tournament?
Murphy: We actually found out yesterday (Thursday). The official news did not break until today, I think this morning at 10:30, but we actually got an email from the NJCAA conveniently while we were at training yesterday. Probably around 2:30, 3 o’clock we were told and I was able to tell the good news to the team.
So what was their reaction?
BM: To be honestly, utter jubilance would probably be the best way to explain it to you. Especially where we weren’t guaranteed. And honestly going into it we knew our chances were, I’d put them at about 50/50, but we knew a lot would have to go our way in order for us to do it. We’re definitely excited and blessed for the opportunity.
Since losing in the Region X championship game last week, what has this week of practice been like? Do you keep training as if you believe you’re definitely getting in?
BM: After the postseason ended when we lost to Louisburg in the region championship game, we actually weren’t allowed to train until we submitted our at-large nomination and got approval from the NJCAA. So there was about a week where we didn’t train.
I think the spirits had kind of got down with the boys but once we got permission to train and meeting back up and seeing each other again it definitely picked the boys back up.
For the past four days, it’s hard to find motivation when nothing is guaranteed, so I cannot speak highly enough about my boys for keeping the mentality exactly where they needed to be. They trained just as hard as they did during the regular season and during the playoffs and kept a really good attitude and thank goodness they were rewarded for it.
Do they feel like going into this tournament the players sort of feel like they have something to prove? What is their attitude going into the tournament?
BM: When I got here to the program three years ago, I believe they were 2-15 the year the before, so it’s been an uphill battle for us since we got here. Every year we’ve progressed and gotten better but we always embraced the underdog mentality. We always try to play with a chip on our shoulders, with something to prove. I told the boys going into the tournament we have absolutely nothing to lose but everything to gain. And we’re going in there with the mentality of nothing less than trying to actually surprise some people and win a national championship.
Going into a tournament where you’ve never seen any of the other schools except for one, how do you prepare for that?
BM: We’re embracing it to the best of our ability because we’re going into it with the thought process of as little as we know about them that’s how little they know about us. So we’re trying to go into it with the mentality of no matter who they put up in front of us we’re going to give them everything we’ve got.
The Patriots will face Muskegon Community College in their first game of the NJCAA Division II national championship tournament on Sunday at 5 p.m. EST in Wichita, Kansas. They’ll then play No. 1 seed Pima Community College, out of Tucson, Arizona, on Monday at 5 p.m. EST. A live stream is available at NJCAA.org.
The tournament is set up with four pools of three teams. The team with the best record among PHCC, Muskegon, and Pima at the end of the pool play will move on to the semifinals on Wednesday.
Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org