TAMPA – It’s a long way from Wellington, New Zealand to Tampa.
A little over 8,000 miles, in fact.
After coming that distance to play for the University of Tampa men’s soccer team, forward Greg O’Connor has come a long way in the two months he’s been with the team, and will make his first start for the Spartans on Saturday as they open their Sunshine State Conference schedule against Barry.
“I’m really excited about it,” O’Connor said. “Making a big move from New Zealand, it’s been a big change for me and it’s been good so far. Things have been great and I’m looking forward to starting this game.”
O’Connor has been bringing energy to the Spartans attack in the past two games, but it did take him time to get adjusted to the Florida climate. The temperature in New Zealand rarely gets above 80 degrees in the summer, so joining the Spartans at the height of summer left was a major difference.
“It’s taken him a little time to get adjusted,” Spartans coach Adrian Bush said. “He’s had to adapt to the heat, but I think he’s adjusted very well. I give him a lot of credit, because he’s a long, long way from home, and he’s doing very well.”
Weather aside, though, Bush said O’Connor has fit right in with his new teammates.
“He’s a very likable buy, great personalty, great spirit, maturity level is very good,” Bush said. “You can tell he comes from not just a good family but a good soccer background. He gets it, he understands the importance of working hard.”
SLIGHT DROP: Tampa dropped to No.5 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Division II poll this week after a 1-1 draw against West Florida. Bush said while the performance against the Argonauts was disappointing, he was happy that the side had pulled out a tie, and had appeared to learn a valuable lesson from the game.
“I definitely think we’ve had a great week thus far in training,” Bush said. “I think the attitude is right. You know, it’s one thing to play poorly, we give West Florida all the credit in the world, but we didn’t play well, but the main thing, and I think the maturity of our team, is to understand why we didn’t play well. And it wasn’t about breaking down film or anything, it was workrate, and I think it was a big lesson for them. Thank god it didn’t cost us a loss, but I think it was a wake-up call for them, and we make look back from now and say that was a turning point in our season.”
Midfielder Ryan Griffin said he thinks the reduced pressure of not being ranked No.1 will allow the team to loosen up as it nears the midway point of its season.
“When you’re No.1 in the nation, everyone wants to kill you,” Griffin said. “Now we’re No.5, there’s a little more breathing room, and we can look forward to conference play that starts this weekend.”
CONFERENCE CALL: Barry finished with a 3-4-1 record in SSC play last season, and currently hold a 4-3-1 record entering Saturday night’s game. That doesn’t mean Bush is taking the Buccaneers, or any other SSC opponent, lightly.
“This is what it’s all about,” Bush said. “One of our main goals was to win the conference, and now it’s one game at a time. There’s no easy games, we know that, and we have a lot of respect for all the teams in this conference, but you’ve got to get result, and the eight-game gauntlet starts Saturday.”
Griffin said that while the Spartans had been tested by the games they had faced so far, they were now hitting the critical point of their season.
“The NAIA teams we played were all solid teams, but those games don’t count,” Griffin said. “If you don’t win your conference, or do well in your conference, you’re not going to have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, so these are the real games. We have eight of them, and we’re looking to win all of them.”