Just last year, the York College men's soccer team overcame a 3-5-3 start to the season by going 8-0-2 in the next 10 games to win the Capital Athletic Conference title and qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament.
Then this year's group, which includes 16 upperclassmen, proved to be tough but forgiving when they welcomed back senior goalie Jesse Derksen, who was dismissed from the team a month into the 2011 season for various reasons.
The adversity has made the group stronger, according to longtime coach Mark Ludwig. So it doesn't surprise Ludwig that his squad has stayed strong despite recent and perhaps controversial penalties handed down by the NCAA.
Violations: On Sept. 29 when York faced Salisbury, Spartans' first-year assistant coach Andrew Marshall watched the game from the stands and made contact with the team during halftime.
The issue was the fact that Marshall got a red card in York's previous game against Messiah. As a result, Marshall was suspended for the game against Salisbury, meaning he couldn't have any contact with the team in any manner during the contest.
"He (Marshall) was in our locker room (at halftime). He didn't talk to me or any of the players. He talked with some assistants," Ludwig said. "It was just an oversight. It wasn't anything that we were trying to do to gain an advantage."
About a week later Ludwig discovered the incident violated an NCAA rule and quickly reported it to the governing body of college athletics.
"That rule was just put into place this year," Ludwig said. "But very few, if any, head coaches know about it. I've talked to 18 coaches and only two were even aware that something like this even existed."
The NCAA responded by making York forfeit its previous three games and suspending Ludwig and Marshall two games each (the suspensions have already been served).
Repercussions: As a result of the forfeits, York dropped out of the top-25 NCAA D-III rankings after sitting at No. 11. The Spartans also fell from No. 7 to No. 18 in the d3soccer.com rankings. They would have had the top seed in the CAC tournament but instead finished with the No. 3 spot because of the forfeits.
Since the forfeits, York went 4-0-1 in the final five regular season games and beat St. Mary's, 1-0, in the opening round of the conference tourney on Saturday. The Spartans (12-5-2) advanced to the semifinals to face Frostburg State on Wednesday.
They'll likely need to win their fourth straight CAC title to guarantee their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Surely, York would've had an easier road to the NCAA tourney if not for the forfeits. And the Spartans would've received a much better seed in that tournament than the one they will get if they make it back there.
But this team has overcome obstacles before. The forfeits are just more to add to that list.
"I don't think it's fair on the kids. But I don't think they even think about it," Ludwig said.
"What I've said to them all year is just control what you can control."
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.