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After going 10-5-2 in Trask’s first season but failing to make the NCAA tournament, the Flames advanced to the round of 32 in 2006, falling to Big East power Notre Dame and setting the stage for 2007. What made last year’s postseason run even more impressive was the fact that UIC played every game on the road, notching wins at Saint Louis, Northwestern and Creighton before losing to the University of Massachusetts in the Minutemen’s improbable run.
"I think some programs get to that level [of the NCAA tournament] and they’re happy they got there once," Trask said. "If you look at some of the teams that did well last year, be it Bradley or UMass, and you look at where they are right now, in comparison to us, we seem to relish the fact that we’re quote-unquote a big-time program these days."
"When I came, three years ago, I had mixed feelings," the goalkeeper said.
Trask laid it all out -- he’d inherited a program that would take some building, but he was positive the team had the ability to do big things.
"I knew we were going to get far, because Coach believed in it," Bubonja said. "We worked during practice. Now it’s way different. We have bigger goals."
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While UIC might not necessarily be one of the first schools to pop into people’s minds as a soccer powerhouse, the way Indiana (Trask’s alma mater) or a number of ACC schools do, it’s hard to name many programs that have been more competitive as of late.
"We’ve built up our own style, and that’s a crucial part UIC has and the reason we attract all the good players from across the county," junior goalkeeper Jovan Bubonja said. "We really want to win. We’re not satisfied just to be ranked or to be hosting one or two big games a season. It’s very important that we’ve built our own identity.
"That [consistent style of play] is what the big teams have -- and it’s the same, home or away, under pressure or with no pressure. And at UIC, that’s the identity we have."
Though the identity may be evolving, the approach is still the same.
"We’re just focusing on doing the right thing at the right time, not looking too far ahead," junior forward Baggio Husidic said. " We’re taking it minute by minute during the game."
That focus is producing results -- which is what it takes to get prospective players to buy in. Trask admits that during his first year or two, UIC was probably most players’ second choice. The Flames had strong international and Chicago-area representation, but often, when the coaching staff reached out to some of the nation’s top recruits, they never heard back. They no longer have that problem.
Freshman Julian Serrato, a men’s national team U-18 pool player, from Boca Raton, Fla., admits he didn’t grow up dreaming about playing collegiate soccer for the Flames, but when it came time to choose a school, UIC stood out among the rest.
"Last season and the season before have been a key factor of why I came here," Serrato said. "Bottom line, I wanted to just improve my game, and [Trask] told me this is where I could improve and keep going forward. The team was very strong, and we had a chance to go to the Final Four and win the national title. That’s what I wanted."
The fact that playing into mid-December is not just a possibility for UIC, but an expectation, really resonates with Bubonja.
But unlike UMass (and so many other Cinderellas), the Flames are establishing themselves as a perennial threat.
As anyone that witnessed UIC play last year’s national champion runner-up No. 17 Ohio State to a scoreless draw Oct. 8 can attest, times have changed.
"To think there used to be 20 people in the stands, and now to see 2,500, you’re a proud papa of what’s been accomplished," Trask said.
Just like the team’s attendance -- which has increased by some 700 percent -- the team’s list of accomplishments continues to grow. The Flames (8-1-4) are ranked No. 7 in the nation and were undefeated until a 1-0 loss at Butler on Saturday afternoon. But more importantly, the team has proved that its success -- a spot in last year’s Elite Eight -- was not a one-time fluke, but a steady progression.
"To come from where we did and now to see where we are as a program … it seems like every facet of the program -- the way we perform, the way we’re treated on campus, our fans -- it’s all progressing a lot quicker and at a lot higher level than probably I anticipated when I took the job," Trask said.
Shawn Barry, a freshman defender from Miramar, Fla., recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com to talk about his first year with the men’s soccer team. UVa hits the road for a Saturday night match at VCU before returning to Klöckner Stadium to open ACC play on Friday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.
Question: The team earned two wins over the weekend at George Mason and home against Hofstra. Is there a feeling of momentum heading into your match at VCU?
Barry: Since starting out 0-2, it was great to get two wins back-to-back and jumpstart our season. The George Mason game in particular I felt like we came together as a team to get the overtime win. At halftime, we were down 2-0, and we knew we would have to step it up, which we did. As far as VCU, we’re working on continuing to focus on working as a team and working on our tactics.
Question: How would you describe your first few weeks at college?
Barry: Hectic! But, I’ve had to deal with being in school and playing soccer all of my life, but the amount of both in college definitely takes some getting used to.
Question: Is there a class you are particularly enjoying? Have you thought about a major?
Barry: I like criminology and I may major in forensic science.
Question: What do you miss most about Florida?
Barry: Well the thing I don’t miss is the humidity, because once you go outside in Florida you immediately start sweating. I miss my mom’s cooking the most because we are from Puerto Rico, so we all love that Puerto Rican food.
Question: Will your mom be able to come up for a game?
Barry: She’ll be here for the NC State game with my sister.
Question: Looking ahead to the ACC schedule, is there a particular game you are looking forward to?
Barry: I’m looking forward to the Virginia Tech game since it is a rivalry. I’m also really looking forward to playing Maryland here on Halloween.
Question: Is there a soccer player you looked up to as a kid or tried to model your game after?
Barry: I’m a defender, but I look up to Thierry Henry because of the way he plays. When I play forward, I try to play like him. Defensively, I like Theo Walcott.
Question: Why did you choose Virginia?
Barry: Because of the academic support. There are so many people here looking out for your best interests and that’s why I chose UVa.
Question: Do you have any hidden talents?
Barry: Well if I score this year, you’ll see a back flip.
Vinny DiBullo playing a match at FAU
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