BILLINGS — It’s tough to practice without any payoff.
“It is a weird sensation of not knowing when your next game is," said Rocky Mountain College men's soccer senior captain Milo Downey.
But that’s all Rocky did for four months in the fall of 2020.
“We worked on some things that we wouldn’t have had time to work on normally," Rocky head coach Richard Duffy admitted, "but the drawback of it was obviously not being able to play any games, so some of the stuff you’re working on, you don’t necessarily get to implement it in a game atmosphere. But I think it was good having that time to build these guys up physically.”
“Fitness-wise, I think we were solid. We were doing fitness all fall long, that’s all we did," said Bears goalkeeper Ryan Cornwall.
“As soon as we caught wind that there was a chance we might be going in the spring, I think that gave us motivation in those tougher months," Downey added.
The eventual spring season was fast and furious -- eight games in less than a month. Apparently all that fitness helped. Rocky went 8-0 to win the Cascade Collegiate Conference East Division, outscoring opponents 29-4, the second number being the key.
“Going into the year, we were a little unsure about our defense," Cornwall said. "We lost a lot of solid players the past couple years in the back line. As soon as we got our feet under ourselves, we figured out we’re pretty strong in the back.”
The perfect season has the Bears back at the NAIA national tournament for the first time since fall 2018, but many of this group were along for that season that saw Rocky get to the Elite Eight. That changed their thinking.
“It was no longer our end goal to get to the national tournament," said Cornwall, who was a freshman on the Elite Eight squad. "I think we’re a better side than that. Over the last few years, our goal has been to win a national tournament.”
“You want to do something more," Duffy added. "You want to win a national championship or compete in a final, do something the program hasn’t done.”
The only thing they seem to differ on is how to get that done in their NAIA opener Thursday.
"I want to win 4-3 or 6-7," Duffy laughed. "I’d rather score some goals and win that way.”
“As a goalkeeper, I’d rather the 1-0 than the 4-3," Cornwall replied.
Downey took the middle ground.
“I don’t think it matters. That’s how this game works, it’s just one more than the opposition," he said.
They know the name of the game at this point: survive and advance.
Rocky will take on MidAmerica Nazarene in the opening round Thursday on Nazarene’s home field in Olathe, Kansas. Game time is set for 4 p.m. local time, 3 p.m. back in Montana. Fans can watch the game via MidAmerica Nazarene's YouTube page.