Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hokies men's soccer retools with youth

Here's my latest article for The Collegiate Times. Enjoy!

A younger and revamped Virginia Tech men’s soccer team will be tested this season with a challenging schedule.

The Hokies will face off against eight opponents ranked in the top-20 preseason poll, including St. John’s and defending national champion — and in-state Atlantic Coast Conference rival — University of Virginia.

“The rankings came out again and the ACC competitors are stacked up,” said Michael Brizendine, head coach. “All league games are dog fights. I think that we have some underdogs (on the team) like we did last year.”

The Hokies will look to new faces this season to improve upon a 5-12-2 campaign in 2009. There are 15 newcomers to the team this season, 12 of whom are freshmen.

Despite their inexperience, the freshmen will see significant playing time right away, including forward David Clemens, midfielder/forward Mikey Minutillo and midfielder Jose Velazquez.

“I think as the young guys get more comfortable you’ll see more out of them,” Brizendine said. “We have some exciting attacking players and most of those guys are young, so we have to get those freshman nerves out of the way as quick as possible.”

The team played the College of William & Mary Saturday in a friendly scrimmage. Although the Hokies lost 4-1, Brizendine was proud of the way they performed.

“From a learning perspective, I thought it went very well,” Brizendine said. “The score doesn’t obviously reflect it. But it gives us something to build on.”

A number of underclassmen received substantial playing time in the scrimmage, including Clemens — who played for 60 minutes.

Even with so many new faces, the team will still receive contributions from returning veterans.

“Clarke Bentley, Jon Snyder, Greg Cochrane and Dave Fiorello will be essential pieces to the puzzle, and they’re going to have to do well for us to have some success,” Brizendine said. “All those players play up the middle, so they’re always involved in what’s going on.”

The season goal for entire team, from the head coach all the way down the to players, is one thing: improvement.

“We want to do better in our league, we want to do better in our out-of-conference results,” Brizendine said. “Ultimately this will lead us to the NCAA tournament which is a goal.”

Bentley, a senior, said the players would like to see more wins this season, and hard work will be a main factor in reaching their goals.

“Individually, a goal for us would be to come out each and every training session and get better and work out,” Bentley said. “Hopefully if we come out and do that our results will improve and speak for our hard work. Numbers wise, I think that if we put the work in out here on the training field and then those things will come along like shutouts and goals.”

In addition, the players hope to continue the success in the classroom and on the pitch.

“We have a lot of goals set for the season ranging from GPAs and averages to finishing above .500 and making the NCAA tournament,” Clemens said.

He believes the preseason helped build the team’s chemistry and put the players in the right mindset.

“We’re looking to really find ourselves as a team,” Clemens said.  “Hopefully we can come out with wins this season to really define ourselves and show everyone what we’re all about.
“We’ve really become a family.”

The regular season will begin Sept. 3 with the UVa tournament in Charlottesville, where the Hokies will take on No. 12 St. John’s. The players are looking forward to a match that will show what the team is made of.

“Especially during preseason, we’ve been a much more exciting team,” Bentley said. “Going forward we’re going to be more fluid. Defensively we’re more experienced. We bonded over the summer, which was important because we’re trying to achieve hopefully something very special.”

The team will play its home opener Sept. 17, in its first crucial ACC test against Clemson University. With all the new faces on the team there is excitement in the air.

However, if the team starts out slow there is not a need to lose faith according to Clemens.

“It’s going to take us a couple games to come together,” Clemens said. “But we’re definitely on our way there.”

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