Now, it’s a matter of sustaining momentum.
The Hornets (4-0-1) were ranked No. 2 in the NAIA coaches’ poll released Tuesday, matching the highest ranking they’ve reached in their seven-year history. Southern Poly continued its rise from No. 8 in the preseason, to No. 3 last week.
Southern Poly only trailed undefeated Hastings College (6-0), which earned just three more points than the Hornets from the coaches’ votes.
“As far as reactions go, I kind of have mixed emotions,” said Southern Poly coach Kom Momeni, who has been at the Hornets’ helm from the program’s start. “If they told me over the summer we would be No. 2, I wouldn’t believe them, so that’s good. We have mixed emotions because we really felt we did enough to get the No. 1 ranking.”
The Hornets’ lone game without a win came Aug. 31, when they had to settle for a 1-all draw with Union after allowing a second-half goal. Aside from that, Southern Poly has a 13-3 edge in its four wins.
Now, the Hornets are looking toward the Southern States Athletic Conference season, which begins Friday at Spring Hill, and it won’t be easy.
Four of Southern Poly’s SSAC rivals also cracked the top 25, including No. 6 Belhaven, No. 13 Bethel University, No. 17 Mobile and No. 22 Auburn Montgomery.
Last season, four Southern States teams finished among the NAIA’s final eight.
“Our conference play begins Friday, and this will be a chance to see how well these guys play in adverse conditions,” Momeni said.
Southern Poly’s quick start has much to do with the way it’s played defense. Of the four goals its allowed, three have either come off either penalty kicks, corner kicks or fouls.
The other surprise is how well the young and inexperienced Hornets are performing.
The protection is led by freshman goalkeeper Charlie DeLoatche and the stout defense in front of him. DeLoatche has started all but one game, saving eight of the 12 shots he’s faced.
Both of Southern Poly’s outside defenders — Philipp Roessler and Dillon Gallion — are also freshmen, as are center midfielder Ousman Ceesay and forward Julian Tonges.
Sophomore center defender Kevin Osorio is also having a solid season in the back.
Forward Omar Kanteh has led Southern Poly in scoring with five goals and has two assists. Midfielder Ahmed Zaky has three goals on the year — two of them game-winners — and assisted on two goals.
“The season has just started, to be honest with you,” Momeni said. “We don’t want to make (our ranking) a big deal because we know we’re going to get every team’s best game.”