Even at 1-2-1, JSU soccer hoping for bigger things down the road
by Jordan Smith
Special to The Star
Sep 05, 2013 | 1593 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Neal Macdonald is in his first season as Jacksonville State's women's soccer coach. (Photo by Matt Reynolds/Jacksonville State University)
Neal Macdonald is in his first season as Jacksonville State's women's soccer coach. (Photo by Matt Reynolds/Jacksonville State University)
JACKSONVILLE -- There is a sign hanging in the stairwell that leads from Notre Dame’s football locker room to the tunnel that reads, “Play like a champion today.” First-year Jacksonville State soccer head coach, Neal Macdonald, has asked his players to do even more than that: Live like champions.

“If you’re going to be a champion, then you had better act like one and live like one to get to that point,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald is trying to change the culture of the team, and while he does it, he is less concerned with the immediate record than the process of improvement.

After posting a 10-8-2 record last year but losing nine seniors and four starters, JSU is 1-2-1 after one week. The Gamecocks beat McNeese State 1-0, tied Louisiana-Lafayette 1-1 and lost to The Citadel 3-1 and Charleston Southern 4-2.

The Gamecocks return to the pitch for their home opener today against Alabama A&M at 7 p.m.

“I think we’re making great progress just because the quality of the product is fantastic,” Macdonald said. “It’s going to be a process. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

He has challenged the Gamecocks to change their lifestyles and how they approach their training sessions to coincide with their new “Charter of Champions.”

“Any great athlete has certain traits and certain tendencies,” Macdonald said. “Teams are the same way. A team that consistently wins championships has certain traits and things that they do very well.”

The traits he wants to exhibit -- striving to be a leader, playing with passion, improving team chemistry, making a commitment, being coachable, having respect, establishing accountability, being confident, having pride and being ambitious.

Changing the culture of the team could not have come at a better time.

While rebuilding, JSU takes to the pitch with no seniors and a freshman class of 11.

“It’s real important that I get my philosophy across to the players early on and that we set really high standards for them,” he said. “Our goal is to get this team to the top of the OVC.”

The freshmen players have the luxury of being new to the program. The new culture of the team will be the only culture they are familiar with.

The older players are going to feel the full brunt of the transition. That is where a familiar face comes into play. Assistant coach Andy Swift remained with the program and is in his sixth season with JSU. Coach Macdonald called it a “no-brainer” to keep him.

“I realized very quickly that he was very valuable to the program. He knows JSU. He knows the game well,” he said. “It’s obvious when you talk to him that he knows what he’s doing.”
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