A year ago, N.C. State mens soccer team was poised to be a program on the rise. The Wolfpack kicked off its season with a six-game winning streak and shot up to No. 14 in the national rankings.
But things soon fell apart.
N.C. States roster was marred with injuries, including a leg injury to 2011 leading scorer Nazmi Albadawi that forced him to miss eight games, and the Wolfpack began to falter. The team went on two three-game losing streaks and finished the rest of its season 4-10 after the hot start, including getting bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament by Virginia Tech.
In the midst of this stretch, the team also had to deal with issues off the pitch. In October 2012, four members of the team were arrested following a fight at Downtown Sports Bar. All four were subsequently kicked off the team.
Entering this season, coach Kelly Findley views all of these events as a chance to learn.
I think the good thing is we learned those hard lessons last year and I expect our guys not only to take those lessons but apply them this year and not be complacent, Findley said.
When youre trying to turn around a program and you have guys that dont quite understand the expectations, and that was obviously a few guys that didnt quite understand what it takes to be a champion.
Findley said that the players remaining from last years team have also learned what it means to be a committed member of the N.C. State program.
I think they realized how good they can be when everyones bought in and how average we were when everyone wasnt bought in, Findley said. I think those lessons have helped us, again, be stronger.
The turn of a new season did not necessarily spell the end of Findleys troubles. The Wolfpack welcomed 10 newcomers to the team this season between freshmen and transfers.
The upside, Findley said, is those guys have adapted quickly. But its still a work in progress.
Obviously I dont think were 100 percent clicking right now just because its early in the year, but Im sure well get up to speed, Findley said. I would say its been easy because theyre all good players and hard working guys.
The mistakes of the past have also motivated Albawadi to become a hands-on leader for the team, on and off the field.
Coach told me that I have to be a lot more strict about a lot of things. Especially in the summer, I was really hard on the guys, Albawadi said.
N.C. State did kick off its season on a positive note with a 2-0 win at Campbell and began its ACC schedule against newcomer Pittsburgh in its second game of the season on Sept. 7.
N.C. State was able to pull out a 1-0 overtime victory over the Panthers. Nick Surkamp, playing in his second game for N.C. State after playing two years at Longwood, punched in a header off a corner kick in the 94th minute.
Albawadi said the win was a step forward for a team that probably would have folded in a close game in the past.
Its a good thing that we did get the win, instead of getting a tie, Albawadi said. That would have happened in the past because we would have worried about us not being in the lead.
Since its ACC opener, N.C. State (3-1, 1-1 ACC) split its next two matches. Findley and his club were able to pick up another overtime win at William & Mary 2-1, but dropped its matchup against Clemson 1-0.
The toughest games will also be on the road this season. N.C. State will travel to ranked ACC opponents Maryland, Syracuse and top-ranked North Carolina. It will have home-field advantage against the two other opponents that are currently in the top 25, Wake Forest and Notre Dame.
Findley is maintaining a positive outlook.
Sometimes you have to go through those hard times to get out on the other side and kind of feel the sun so to speak, Findley said.