FARMVILLE, Va. -- After winning the 2011 Atlantic Soccer Conference (ASC) Tournament Championship, the Longwood University men’s soccer team returns to action in 2012 as a new member of the Big South Conference.
“We’re looking forward to further developing Big South rivalries,” said head coach Jon Atkinson. “We’ve always played Big South teams, but now to actually play under a conference affiliation gives the games more meaning, which will resonate throughout the program and we’re excited about that.”
Atkinson, now in his eighth season at the helm of the Lancers, returns a small group of veteran players charged with laying the foundation for a talented class of newcomers. The 2012 lineup will include four starters and eight total upperclassmen from the 2011 squad that finished 11-6-3, in addition to 10 incoming freshmen.
“This team will have to blend quickly in order to develop a chemistry with so many new faces,” explained Atkinson. “While it’s a challenge, it’s an exciting challenge. The newcomers we have in the fold are very capable and can help take the program forward. The success of this year will be impingent on how humble, enthusiastic and willing everyone is. We need to have everyone respectfully buy into our style and I’m confident the performances and results will be positive.”
In order to be successful in 2012, the young squad will need to embrace a different approach than last year, one that ensures everyone plays his part on the field, from box to box.
“We hope to surprise some teams this year,” commented Atkinson. “At LU we aim to do that with a good brand of soccer that’s both entertaining and effective. This year, we’ll concentrate on playing a very simple, assured, connect-the-dots type soccer, with a lot of emphasis on movement and ball retention. We’re going to be more team-oriented this year, and I think overall that will be good for us. I’m eager for the new season to start so we can see just how well this team takes shape.”
Coach Atkinson is counting on seniors Evan Jones, Pat McDaniel, Devin Pierce, Vinnie Llana, Mike Tegler and Adel Sarras to provide a good example of what Longwood soccer is all about for their younger teammates.
“The seniors provide stability and backbone for the program, and I think they’re going to be ever so important to the direction of the program because the young players can learn from their experience in terms of how to perform at this level,” said Atkinson.
Despite having his share of injuries, Jones has always beena strong leader in the Lancers’ backfield. An extremely committed player, he is expected to play a big part this season in how the team operates. A regular in the starting lineup since his freshman year, McDaniel will also help lead the charge for Longwood once again this season. A talented and willing player, his stability and athleticism in the back will be essential in 2012. Pierce, a player that finds a way to work well with anyone on the field, will be relied on up top to foster the squad’s offensive attack, while teammates Llana and Sarras will have a good chance to help shape the team’s midfield. Finally, Tegler will add a sense of calm, but also speed, to the defense.
Despite losing some of last season’s firepower on the front line, veterans Pierce and Anthony Ugorji will look to lead the Lancers’ attack in 2012. Pierce, who scored the game winner in 2011 against Virginia Tech, finished last season with four points.
“Devin has a great overall ability as a forward to hold play up,” said Atkinson. “He’s good in the air, he’s got a good finish on him, and if given half a yard, he’s very capable of scoring goals at this level. On the other hand, Anthony is one of the quickest college players out there. He’s got explosion, strength and the ability to get on the end of balls, causing defenders all sorts of problems.”
In addition to Pierce and Ugorji, incoming freshman Ikechukwu Etonyeaku is an explosive player with good talent that is expected to provide a lot of attack prowess, especially in the final third.
Besides these strikers, wide flank players who can provide good width and crosses are essential to the Lancers’ game plan. Jones, a back who could play up this season, and freshman Sam Yardley, a natural left-footed player, will both see time on the left side. Sophomore Taylor Evans is alsoexpected to see minutes.
With an abundance of talent in the midfield, the Lancers’ roster will boast several options for coach Atkinson. Returning from last season will be Llana and junior Brian Henry.
“Vinnie has seen a lot of minutes during his career, so we know he has the ability to perform at this level. On the other hand, Brian epitomizes what I mean by humility because he has no hidden agenda and justwants to get on the field and play. He’s a hardworking, tenacious player, and is willing to do anything for the team.”
Rookies Philip van Berkom, Rhys Cairns, Will Lambert and Zach Corcoran will also be added to the mix. van Berkom has international playing experience, as he represented the Netherlands at the U16 level. Cairns, a decorated player in England, can play both sides of the field with tenacity and ball movement. In addition, Lambert is a hardworking athlete who can not only break plays up on defense, but also create plays on offense. Lastly, Corcoran is a high energy, competitive player who could make a tremendous impact once adjusted to the college game.
Looking to add depth will be junior Jared Windt, who is continuing to recover from an injury. Once healthy, he will see minutes thanks to his creativity, vision and ability to control the flow of the game.
McDaniel will look to lock down the Lancers’ backfield in 2012 with his size, speed and talent. Tegler, who’s seen a lot of time at right back, is a great one-on-one defender with a composed playing style. In addition, sophomore Daena Bodie is expected to be an important piece of thedefense after showing the staff last season what he’s capable of when he’s healthy.
Adding depth to the defense will be sophomores Peter Sullivan and Kevin Zhu.
“Kevin did well for us last year,” explained Atkinson. “He’s a very humble, hard working player, and if he continues the growth he showed in his first year, he has the ability to see minutes on the field in a variety of positions.”
Newcomers Christian Keilty, Aidan McGovern and Michael Durrare all important recruits for the Longwood defense.
“Christian will add a lot of speed to the defense or in a wide position, while Aiden is a decorated player from Ireland that will give us some natural balance on the left side,” said Atkinson. “Michael, who is an exciting and versatile prospect, has natural ability and athleticism, and is capable of pushing forward if needed.”
With Joel Helmick’s graduation, the starting goalkeeper position is up for grabs. Sophomore Paul Hegedus is the Lancers’ returning keeper, and despite only seeing action in three games last season, he turned in a very solid performance this spring. Hegedus will be joined by two newcomers in 2012, Seth Erdman and Carl Carpenter, who are both very capable of filling the position. Erdman and Carpenter both have a good on-field presence, standing over six feet tall.
“All three athletes bring a great skillset to the position. Paul has a head start with a year under his belt as part of the team, but he doesn’t have that much more on-field experience than the others, so it’s anyone’s game right now,” commented Atkinson. “I’m looking forward to the healthy competition and I’m excited to see who will justify the nod there after completing the preseason.”
The Lancers kick off the 2012 season with three-straight Big South Conference matchups, beginning with a two-game road swing at Coastal Carolina (Aug. 24) and Presbyterian (Aug. 28) before hosting Liberty in thesquad’s home opener on Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Athletics Complex in Farmville.
“The schedule has always been tough,” said Atkinson. “There is no easy game in Division I in general, and especially in the men’s soccer program, so we’re definitely going to be tested, but I think that’s the only way we can improve as a program.”
With the success of the 2011 season and the ASC title in the back of their minds, the Lancers hope to build on those results as part of the Big South Conference in 2012.
“Our goal is first and foremost to get in the conference tournament, and from then on in, we will take every game as it comes. Because we start with five Big South games out of our first seven, we hope to set the pace for the other teams by getting some points in the bag to solidify a conference tournament berth.”