PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - What's next for Arnold boys soccer?
Following the program's (and Bay County's) first Final Four appearance a year ago and a 9-1 start this season, there's reason to be optimistic about their future on the field.
Following Hurricane Michael, some players and their families are also wondering what's next off the field.
The Marlins are surging in the state and national rankings, earning No. 1 honors for Florida in 3A and the No. 24 ranking in the nation courtesy of MaxPreps, bolstered by five straight wins and four consecutive clean sheets.
Although they've made it look easy, the first month of the season has been anything but.
They've had to cancel games. Training has been more difficult, much of it taking place off-campus with poor field and equipment conditions. On top of all that, simply living and attending school has been a battle day to day.
"It has affected some of my guys," head coach Jonathan Hammond admitted. "They've been displaced. Maybe they lived in town, they had to move out to the beach. It's been something that we've talked about and it's something that everybody has to deal with, right?"
Hammond estimates seven or eight players lost their homes. Still, they're returning to the field for the benefit of their teammates and their peace of mind.
"Soccer has given them an escape," Hammond said. "When they get out here, they can kind of be free and let it all out. That's probably another thing that's gone into the success that we've had this season. They come out here and they're just allowed to play a game they love and be passionate about it."
And it shows with strong results.
The Marlins have improved in each of Hammond's seasons at the helm. In year one (2016), the Marlins made the playoffs and won a regional game for the first time. The following year, a postseason run that finished one win shy of a state championship berth.
Anything is possible.
"They know the opportunity they have. They know the kind of team they have and we're putting everything into the season as far as training and film."
The group effort is led by 12 seniors and eight returning starters. They've learned a lot all ready, but the lessons never stop.
"We just made the top 25 in the nation, so that's exciting for the boys, but our one loss this year taught us that we can never take anything for granted."
That one loss came against Bay on December 4th, a 3-1 defeat that mirrored their 3-1 win two weeks prior in all ways except the score.
After that game, after Hurricane Michael, and after last season, the Marlins hope better things are still to come.
If their resiliency so far is any indication...there are.
The Marlins host West Florida (7-3-1) Monday night at 7 p.m. at Gavlak Stadium.