Midnight Madness - soccer style
Men's soccer opens preseason practice
August 9, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Wednesday was the first official day of fall practice for the Virginia Tech men's soccer team, and the Hokies wasted little time getting started. The squad hit the outdoor track at 12 a.m. - a soccer version of 'Midnight Madness' if you will - to begin conditioning and training for the upcoming 2006 season. Tech will play a pair of exhibition games - at West Virginia on Aug, 17 and home vs. Old Dominion on Aug. 19 - before opening up the season against Navy in the UMBC Soccer Classic on Aug 25.

After a record-setting 2005 campaign and a successful spring season, the 2006 Virginia Tech men's soccer team is taking aim at the program's first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference and national championships. To reach this goal, however, the Hokies will have to get through a daunting non-conference slate in addition to a tough league schedule in order to receive their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

With 10 newcomers and the return of two players who received medical redshirts last season, Tech should again compete for a spot in the NCAA postseason. Redshirt-junior Ben Nason, who was a second team All-ACC player in 2004, returns after missing nearly all of 2005 with an injury, and should give the Hokies an additional playmaker in the midfield. He will help free up Tech's forwards while keeping the ball away from opponents, which is key as the Hokies break in a new goalkeeper for the first time in four years.

"This year, we want to continue to improve in all aspects of our program," head coach Oliver Weiss said. "We want to win more games, receive more recognition for our players individually, allow less goals, keep longer possessions and create more chances for our team. We also have to continue our tradition of academic excellence here at Virginia Tech. Therefore, we have high expectations both on the field and in the classroom."

Sophomore Patrick Nyarko, who earned first-team All-ACC honors a year ago and was the conference's Freshman of the Year, returns from a stellar debut campaign that saw him garner several accolades, including being named to two Freshman All-America teams. His eight goals, including four game-winners, were tops among the Hokies in 2005 despite the fact he was only eligible for the final 15 matches. As one of the most experienced players in the attacking half for Weiss' squad, Nyarko's ability to get open and find the back of the net should help take scoring pressure off the Hokies.

"Patrick is hungry to improve," Weiss said. "People will be aware of him, but he will be stronger and more prepared. Patrick will be better toward the end of the year, as that is when we will be aiming to peak as a team."

Helping Nyarko on attack will be junior Marcus Reed. He will play not only in the opponents' half, but will also drop back and see time in the midfield.

"The majority of a potent strike force will be back this year," Weiss said.

Three freshmen will also be in the mix for playing time at the forward position. A pair of 6-2 players in Craig Brutus and Jimmy Carroll could be big targets in the box. Alex George could also see some action during his first season.

"We want a collective force when scoring goals," Weiss said. "We want at least two or three goals from multiple players. That way, we can put a line-up out there and people can contribute in multiple ways. It will help us become more unpredictable for our opponents to defend."

The graduation of Magnus Einarsson and Greg Roach might hamper the Hokies in the midfield, but look for Tech to profit from the return of Ben Nason and Charlie Howe, who each missed the majority of last season due to injuries and were granted medical redshirts.

Seniors Brent Dillie and Eric Vickers, along with redshirt-junior Bo Lawrence, will continue to provide leadership to a steady group of players. Fellow senior Brad Collins provided stability in 2005 when injuries plagued the squad and should do so again this year. Look for sophomore Kevin McFadden, Jr., to continue providing great depth in the midfield while adding the ability to move forward and score. Senior Shota Ban and freshman Charlie Campbell will also vie for playing time.

"Several of the players have been around and will help the younger players adjust," Weiss said. "We have the most flexibility and are the most diverse in our midfield."

Carroll, George and Reed could drop back from the forward position to create offensive chances in the midfield.

"Chad Steuck and Charlie Howe are two defensive midfielders who have done a terrific job," Weiss said. "Marcus Reed and Ben Nason are more attacking midfielders. Charlie Campbell is a combination of both types of players. He is a newcomer that will share spots with our solid group of veterans.

"The midfield position is the best area of our team. We have different players who balance the area out. We will pay attention to the individual tactics of the opponent and adjust. Our midfield is the heart of our team."

The defense also returns an experienced cast back from 2005, one that limited opponents' possessions and shot opportunities, forcing the least amount of saves in school history.

Chad Steuck is the only senior in the back and will contribute his experience and leadership to the group. However, sophomores Alexander Baden and Bryan Collier also saw plenty of playing time last year and will again provide Tech with a solid back-line.

"We have nearly everyone returning in the back," Weiss said. "Consistency is important. Several players have played in a lot of matches and we should have a solid core."

Fellow sophomore Scott Dillie saw playing time in the defensive half for much of last season and will vie for a starting spot in 2006. Midfielders Lawrence and (Brent) Dillie could also drop back from their spots to bolster the defense and keep opposing teams from getting scoring opportunities.

Three newcomers could challenge for playing time on defense. Sophomore Taylor Walsh and freshmen Jonathan Collier and James Gilson will get the opportunity to make an impact on a deep position during their inaugural campaign.

"A good start to a season is based on a great core, and that's what we have," Weiss said. "We have great depth and some of the players such as Marcus Reed and Brent Dillie can drop back and help. We also have backups for every position, which will be key."

The departure of four-year stalwart Chase Harrision will be made up with solid play from the other positions, giving the eventual starter time to become accustomed to the collegiate game.

Junior Drew Czekanski is the only goalkeeper on the roster with any playing experience - and that came during the second half of Tech's 10-1 rout of Charleston last season.

Sophomores Stefan Caulfield and Matt Ells will be in the mix for the starting spot, as will freshman Brendan Dunn, who is the largest of the Tech keepers at 6-2, 190. Regardless of who the eventual starter is, competition for the position promises to be fierce.

"Chase left some big holes to fill," Weiss said. "We will have to see who does better in fall practice. In goal, we need someone to be solid. He doesn't have to be exceptional. It will be critical for our defense and midfield to put us in a good position so our goalie will not have to worry about winning or losing a game."

The team placed fourth last year in the ACC following a 3-2-3 campaign. This season, several teams remain on the schedule, and just like the Hokies, have several top players returning. The 2006 slate promises to be one of the toughest in school history, but Weiss looks to have his troops ready for battle in the ACC and out of conference.

"Again, we are playing a terrific schedule and are looking forward to the challenges in our ACC and non-conference matches," Weiss said.

The Virginia Tech Soccer Stadium capacity increased from 1,000 to 2,028 comfortable bench-back seats in 2005 and with the excitement of being a top-10 team last year, a record crowd of nearly 3,000 fans came out to witness the regular-season finale against Maryland.

With the community's support, look for the Hokies to continue making a climb up the ACC and national ladders.

"We want to go back to the NCAA Tournament and earn a seed," Weiss said. "We want to advance farther than last year and also advance in the ACC Tournament."

Looking at the 2006 schedule, it is arguably one of the toughest in the country. However, Weiss' team should be up for any challenges that await them during the regular season, preparing them for a successful postseason run in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.