As September winds down, the Fairfield University men’s soccer team is beginning to transition away from playing non-conference opponents to playing Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents.

The Stags have one game left in non-conference play against Mount Saint Mary’s University on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m., which will be held at Lessing Field.

Through their first eight games of the season, the Stags have gone 4-4. Although none of the teams they have played are ranked, a good chunk of their opponents represent universities that are held in high-regard both nationally and internationally.

Head Coach Carl Rees points out that playing these programs brings better competition, which will help the team build momentum and confidence as it kicks off its conference schedule on Saturday, Oct. 1 against Quinnipiac University.

“The competition against high profiles represents the fact that you know, our University is now ranked as a national university rather than a regional one,” Rees pointed out. “So with that, it comes with playing competition that features players from not just the US, but worldwide. Princeton, for example, has these programs that are internationally recognized, and they have the ability to travel with global range.”

He continued, “This will definitely help us as we transition into the conference season.”

Some of the programs the Stags have played this season include United States Naval Academy, Princeton University and Harvard University – all schools that consistently attract talent to their highly-recognized programs. They have also played the likes of Colgate University and the University of Rhode Island. In those five contests, the Stags have accumulated a record of 2-3, a respectable performance against programs with longstanding, solid foundations. 

Rees believes that facing stiff competition from these programs will only help his players achieve one of his main goals: growing and finding their potential.

“The overall goal is to maximize our potential and it is my job as a coach to encourage and facilitate each individual player’s development not just on the field, but also in the classroom,” Rees says. “That aspect is very important to me.”

He add, “I think this competition will certainly help them. It challenges and motivates them. It will only help us be prepared when we face conference opponents.”

Rees also mentions another objective that the team is working towards: besting its MAAC competition and taking things one step at a time.

“If we can reach our potential and our ultimate goal, which is winning a MAAC championship and getting into the national tournament, we will be successful,” Rees says. “That’s the goal. We’re very close. Our guys know it. I said to them that it’s a unique opportunity and that we need to work for it. It’s the only time that this particular group of players, coaches, and athletic trainers, and everyone needs to come together and try to do something special. It takes a team-first attitude to accomplish something like that.”

In order for the Stags to continue their success, they need to focus on the present and focus on correcting their mistakes and focusing on their fundamentals. When asked what the team needs to work on and correct, Rees responded by stating “everything.”

“We need to look at everything. And that’s in all facets of the game. Whether it’s when we’re attacking or defending the ball, we need to be paying attention to everything,” Rees explains. “We also need to see where we are mentally and psychologically, which is very important to me. We need to make sure that the group has a good mindset and a good attitude before we hit the field, otherwise we will not be able to have success. It’s a constant grind, and I think with where we are at mentally and psychologically, we are being rewarded by playing challenging schools.”

Rees also pointed out that a healthy locker room, strong team chemistry and morale are key ingredients to also having success.

“The locker room has been fantastic,” Rees reports. “Everyone supports each other, supports one another, we all have a common goal to achieve our individual goals. You know, I’d say it’s a really good blend with the new guys coming in and with our returning guys. We need to understand that we are all a family and that we’ve all got to continue to support each other and come together if we are going to be successful.”

It will be very important for the Stags to remain vigilant as they start their conference schedule this weekend. The experience that the Stags have gained in this past month while playing unfamiliar opponents should help, and that will only be beneficial as the season progresses.

The Stags conference season kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. For more information on Fairfield Soccer and athletics as a whole, please visit www.fairfieldstags.com for more information, updates and news.

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