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posted 01.31.2014 at 11.44 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Morning Jac: Can Fla. Southern Bounce Back?

Marty Ward doesn't mince words about Florida Southern's performance last year. It was a disappointment.

Period.

After finishing 10-6 in 2012 and advancing all the way to the Deep South Conference championship game, last spring held a lot of promise. But a slow start and an inability to win close contests (the Mocs were 0-4 in one goal games) left Florida Southern with a 7-8 final record. As he analyzes the '13 campaign, Ward believes chemistry – or lack thereof – was an arresting factor.

"Some of our guys had different agendas than other guys," Ward said. "It was definitely evident in the locker room and definitely evident in some of the games that we feel we shouldn't have lost. We went through some leadership issues."

Ward did see a spark at the end of the year. Sitting at 3-7, the Mocs rattled off three-straight victories, including a 13-5 dismantling of Saint Leo's on the road to earn a spot in the DSC playoffs. They lost the rematch to the Lions in the quarterfinals, but Ward saw the genesis of a determination he hadn't seen earlier.

"We still clawed away and fought and found a way to get to the quarterfinals and almost beat Saint Leo twice in a row," Ward said. "We still found a way to get there."

This will be Ward's fourth year at the helm of the Mocs, and that's always a key year for any program.

"That's what is exciting for me as a young coach: this is the first time I've had guys who have played for me for four years here," Ward said. "They've been hearing the same type of culture talks and family talks. That's our motto here with the program: Family, Toughness, Heart. FTH. We've been saying that since Day One when I took over in 2011. These guys have never played a season under anybody else. They have the same philosophies as I do and that's winning championships, getting to the top level of Division II and garnering some respect along the way."

They could earn esteem quickly. The Mocs open the season next weekend against Pfeiffer – a team expected once again to be in the South region discussion for most of the year. Florida Southern has lost by a goal to the Falcons in each of the last two seasons, and a victory would get them off on the right foot.

Ward admits that he was hoping to open the season with a warm-up game, but there weren't many options. So he and his team have embraced the opportunity to open the season with a statement.

"I felt it was kind of fitting that we start the season with a non-conference, in-region opponent like Pfeiffer," Ward said. "They are very similar to us in terms of players and philosophies. They are a tough group and they get after you. I'm expecting a wet, slow field in North Carolina on Feb. 8. It's definitely not going to be like Feb. 8 in Florida!"

That game is a week away, however. Florida Southern enters the season under the radar – they are ranked third in the inaugural Sunshine State Conference preseason poll – and that's just where Ward wants them.

"We like being in the back of the group and we need to prove ourselves every week because it keeps us motivated," he said. "It's just a good group of guys who are coming together. We're definitely going to have our adversity and have bumps in the road, but this is a group that is going to climb together and they are going to try to reach the top."