BILLINGS — Billings Central senior Michael Horrell glanced at the other end of the Rams’ Amend Park practice field where his teammates were going through technical drills and pondered a question about their soccer season.
“It’s good to play on a losing team sometimes,” Horrell said. “It’s a learning experience.”
There was no remorse, dejection or gloom in Horrell’s tone. In fact, he and fellow senior captain Ben Morone both spoke glowingly about the time they are having playing on a winless team.
It’s unusual territory for the duo. Four-year players, they’ve been in the postseason each of their first three seasons, reaching the Class A semifinals in 2015 and 2016.
As this regular season enters its final week, the Rams (0-8-2) have a glimmer of hope for a playoff spot with games Thursday against Laurel (3-6-1) and Saturday against Belgrade (7-1-2) remaining, but from day one, everyone in the program knew this would be a trying year.
Twelve seniors graduated from last year’s team, and nearly as many the year before that. That volume of bodies is tough to replace, and so when practices rolled around at the start of this season and the squad consisted of just 11 athletes, well, some of the writing was on the wall. (For those not versed in soccer, it takes 11 players just to field a team.)
The Rams played their first game with that original 11 — sorry, boys, no one can give you a breather — but since then the program has picked up five more players. Assistant coach Nolan Trafton, who took over head coaching duties for the past week while Didier Ndedi was in his native country of Cameroon attending to family matters, said players were encouraged to recruit their friends, and some of that paid off.
Still, the Rams haven’t been able to practice 11 vs. 11 like previous seasons, when it was typical for the program’s roster to number in the mid-20s.
“I think for our older kids, our seniors who have been around three teams that have been very successful, it’s been tough for them to adjust,” Trafton said. “But we had the conversation with them during the offseason that this is what we’re kind of expecting this season and they really embraced a leadership role.”
Though the small participation numbers can be crushing on the scoreboard, they’ve been a blessing in other ways. Horrell and Morone said this is the closest team they’ve been a part of in their four years at Central.
Besides, as the two senior captains pointed out, a school’s program is bigger than just any single season, no matter the results.
“It builds character, you’re not going to win everything,” Morone said. “You just have to keep being positive and keep your head up and try to create good dynamics for the other boys coming up. Because even if it’s not our year to win, if we’ve created a culture and a shift when those sophomores are seniors and they win, that’s just as much ours as it is theirs.”
Horrell concluded: “I’m just going to value the time we got to spend together as a small team. Previous years, it’s been fun to win and stuff, but at the same time, with this team, I’m just going to look back at these boys and think each and every one of them matters to me in some way, and I’m going to keep in touch with them for a long time.”