MCC soccer Tyler Townsend

Meridian Community College's Tyler Townsend, right, chases the ball during practice Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, at the MCC soccer complex.

The Meridian Community College men’s soccer team is receiving early recognition, the kind it’s been waiting on for two decades.

The Eagles (3-0) were ranked No. 16 in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division II men’s soccer rankings for the week of Aug. 30. Head coach Sam Wilson said it’s the first time for the MCC men to be ranked in 20 years, and while the ranking brings positive attention to the program, it also carries some pressure with it as well.

“We found out Monday, and obviously we’re super-excited for the team, but now we know there’s a big target on our backs,” Wilson said.

Freshman and Clarkdale alumnus Cole Gardner said he felt excited when he learned about the ranking.

“It was great,” Gardner said. “It’s our first time (to be ranked) since 2001, so it feels good to be a part of it along with all the freshmen who have come in and helped the sophomores get that national rank.”

Rankings can sometimes be a distraction for teams, but Wilson said he welcomes any additional attention to his program, as it could lead to increased exposure for his players.

“I think first and foremost it’s a big compliment to our guys for both this year and what we’ve done in previous years to build up to be in the rankings,” Wilson said. “I think when your program is getting attention it’s always good for our guys because our main job is to get our guys four-year looks and things like that, so I don’t think being ranked is ever going to be a negative thing for us.”

Gardner doesn’t think the ranking is just early season hype, either.

“I practiced with them last year, and they all had good chemistry,” Gardner said. “I love Coach Sam, and he does a really good job, and I like the freshmen I came in with, too. We’re really good with communication, and our work ethic is really good as well. We put in a lot of work at practice.”

After going 5-6-1 (4-4-1 in conference play) this past spring as part of the NJCAA’s COVID-19 spring schedule, Wilson said the short turnaround to a normal fall schedule helped keep the momentum going for those returning players from the 2020-21 school year.

“I think having a couple of big wins last spring when we beat those two top-10 teams really kind of propelled us more to feeling really good about this fall season,” Wilson said. “I’m hoping we keep the momentum going.”

Having come from a school that played in the MHSAA Class 3A state championship game in February, Gardner said he’s excited to be on a team poised for success in the JUCO ranks.

“It’s always good when you can come from success and keep being successful and get better and better and be even more successful,” Gardner said.

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