The thermometer read 90 degrees as the intense Florida sun beat down on Pepin Stadium. Practice didn’t officially start for another 45 minutes, but nearly the entire team arrived and began training.
“Our strength and conditioning has been a huge point of emphasis this season,” the head coach Adrian Bush said as he watched his team practice. “We came into the season in great shape. Our strength coach Jeff Foxenberger did a great job training the boys during spring workouts.”
The team ran through drill after drill preparing for their next opponent with complete disregard for the smoldering heat.
As of now, the extra work has paid off. The Spartans began the season with four consecutive wins, including an exhibition win over the University of South Florida, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation amongst Division I schools.
Despite the quick start, Coach Bush says the team’s expectations for the season have remained constant. “We have had the same expectations every year since 1978 and that is to win a championship.”
A nasty taste was left in the team’s mouth after finishing last season with a record of 3-10-2. Fan attendance declined after being one of the highest in the country between 2007 and 2010 according to Coach Bush. He added that he understands fans want to see a winning product and believes that is what they will see this season.
Both players and coaches notice a visible difference in this year’s team over last year’s.
“We were a very young team last year and lost a lot of close games we could have won,” said Bush. “We have more discipline and commitment and we know how to win. You have guys who play soccer, then you have soccer players. Right now we have soccer players.”
Even with a more focused and disciplined team, there is still work to be done.
“The rank means nothing to us,” Bush said. “We want to be ranked at the end of the season, not the beginning. We’ve only played a couple of games and we still have a long way to go.”
Team captain Dominic Cutrofello also recognizes the positive changes from last season.
“We are a much closer group of guys this season,” Cutrofello said. “We have great team chemistry and everyone has matured overall.”
Cutrofello, a senior transfer student from Florida Atlantic, playing in his second season with UT, has had a stellar start to the season. In the 52nd minute against the University of Montevallo, Cutrofello booted a penalty kick past the goalie and into the left corner of the goal. Then in overtime, Cutrofello headed in a chip shot from Dominic Goncalves, securing the win for UT.
While Cutrofello is set to graduate this year with a major in marketing, his dream is to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“I love soccer,” he said. “I’ve been playing it forever and I’m not ready to stop. Playing for the Rowdies would be a dream come true for me.”
While maturity and extra training have been important factors in the early season turnaround, Coach Bush still feels the key to a successful team is great character. “We don’t just want the right soccer player on our team, we want the right student.”