MORGANTOWN — University boys’ soccer head coach Dustin Talton is all about the little things.
“I harp on them that there are core principles that I focus on more as a coach, and that’s the type of the stuff that no matter what game we’re in, I want them to execute,” he said.
Whether it’s understanding their role, contesting 50/50 balls, or simply not taking plays off, Talton likes to emphasize that fundamentals and effort wins soccer games.
“It’s not necessarily the amount of goals that’s being scored, but no matter what situation we’re in, I want these players performing to the best of their ability,” he said. ”Each game in, you expect that effort and mentality from yourself, and you expect it from your teammates. Over time, it becomes a habit.”
Though the motto for the Hawks in 2018 is far from just “scoring goals,” as Talton illustrates, most of their opponents would certainly disagree. Talton’s philosophy has his squad laser-sharp on the offensive end of the pitch, as the Hawks have outscored their opponents 50-6 through seven games — no doubt a large part in their undefeated run thus far.
“We have a drive to really want to win. Offensively, we’ll do anything we can to get the ball in the back of the net,” UHS senior Mason Shockley said.
“The mentality after we score one or two goals isn’t to let the foot off the gas. We like to score these goals, but we’d be still be satisfied regardless the score if we know we went out there and gave 100 percent.”
Also playing a role in the Hawks success is the chemistry amongst the unit — a bond between 13 seniors that display exceptional leadership abilities and have shared the pitch together as long as they can remember.
“Our team bond goes deep. We hang out outside of soccer all the time. We have pasta dinners before big games, and we go to the football games together,” Shockley said. “Outside of soccer we’re still close friends. You can see it on the field. We communicate well together.
“There are people on this team I’ve played with for a very long time. (Joseph) Biafora and I have played soccer together from a very young age, and we still play club soccer together. There are lots of bonds like that on this team.”
That type of brotherhood has extended down to the underclassman as well, according to Shockley — making for a unit that is tight-knit and comfortable from top to bottom.
“I don’t know if it’s a stronger bond than in previous years, but I feel like we play smoother. It’s very evident. It feels like a tight-knit group,” he said. “We have a lot of senior leaders and a close group of seniors, and because of that bond a lot of the underclassmen are willing to step up and lead too. It has helped us flourish as a unit.”
Talton has seen the bond grow stronger and stronger on the pitch with each game, and he couldn’t be happier with the progress.
“I think as a collective group we’ve gotten better each game. I’ve seen improvements in playing as a team and trusting each other as teammates,” he said. “The guys are starting to get more comfortable with each other, and it’s really starting to show in front of the net.”
“They’re trusting each other more on the field, they’re making the right choices, and the overall decision making is better than it was at the beginning of the season,” he added.
Talton believes that in order for the Hawks to keep up the string of victories, they will need to stay on top of the teamwork aspect. If they slip there, things could turn downhill quickly.
“I just want to emphasize the importance of the team as a whole,” he said. “Our success as a group revolves around our ability to play as a unit.”