Men's soccer kicks off 2007 schedule
Home exhibition match versus High Point begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday
August 23, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va. - The Virginia Tech men's soccer team plays its first and only exhibition match of the season against the High Point Panthers at 7 p.m. Saturday in Tech Soccer Stadium, before beginning the regular season against VCU at 8 p.m. on Friday in Richmond, Va. High Point went 6-11-4 last season and was 3-4-0 in the Big South Conference. First-year head coach Dustin Fonder, who served as an assistant coach at Elon the past three seasons, welcomes nine newcomers to the squad. The Hokies and Panthers have met only once before in the regular season with Tech earning a 1-0 overtime win at home in 2004. Live stats will be available on hokiesports.com. 2007 OUTLOOK In order to understand what the 2007 Virginia Tech men's soccer team is trying to accomplish this fall, you must first look back at the impressive season they put together in 2006. The Hokies finished with an 11-8-1 record to earn an NCAA Tournament bid in back-to-back years for the first time in program history. It was their third appearance in the past four seasons, and they reached double digits in the win column for the fourth time in head coach Oliver Weiss' five-year tenure. They also broke the school record for assists in a season, while tying the mark for total points. On a national scale, Tech reached an all-time high of No. 8 in the Soccer America poll early in the fall. The Hokies finished the season as the fourth-highest scoring team in the country, having averaged 2.35 goals per game. Fan excitement was at an all-time high thanks to a recently completed 1,028-seat expansion to the soccer stadium and an ultra-competitive schedule, as Virginia Tech finished 14th in the nation in average home attendance. The Hokies capped it all off by being presented with the 2006 ACC Sportsmanship Award, an honor voted upon by their peers. All in all, it was quite a successful season, but Weiss and his staff are far from satisfied. "I think we have begun to understand our role within the ACC and the NCAA after the last few seasons," Weiss said. "We need to become one of the top teams in the ACC and advance in the NCAA Tournament. To do that, we have to become a much more determined and cohesive team of talented individuals. I believe we have a great core of players that want to achieve this new milestone. It is up to us to push and make us go farther than any Virginia Tech soccer team has gone before." The Hokies return to the pitch in 2007 with plenty of tools to make a postseason run once again. Although they lose 10 players from last year's roster, only five of them were regular contributors. A whopping 12 newcomers will join a group of 15 returnees that got a chance to bond during a two-week trip of Germany in the spring, a tour that saw the Hokies play four matches against some of the best club teams in Coach Weiss' native country. "We're very excited about getting things rolling," Weiss said. "We know we have experienced players coming back, and we know we have great incoming players. We also know that our Tulsa match will be on TV, which will be the program's first-ever telecast. All indicators point toward another banner year, and I think we'll see one of the better teams we've had at Virginia Tech." FORWARDS One position where the influx of new talent should mesh with the returning experience is at forward. A pair of juniors from England and Germany will combine with Ghanaian striker Patrick Nyarko to form a United Nations of sorts. Leading the way will be Nyarko, a two-time All-ACC first-teamer who was named to the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. The junior set single-season school records a year ago in goals (16) and points (40), and returns as one of the most talented forwards in the nation. He should continue to work his way up the Tech scoring charts, as he already ranks 10th in both goals (24) and points (62). If he were to match last year's performance, he would move into the No. 2 slot on both lists. "Patrick obviously had a tremendous second year," Weiss said. "But we still think he has a lot of room left to improve in all categories. He should have a great start to his junior season." Joining Nyarko will be first-year Hokies Stefan Hock, a quick winger from Germany, and Robert Edmans, a 6-6 target from England. Both should make an immediate impact. MIDFIELDERS While the forwards will look to provide the scoring punch that made Tech so competitive a year ago, the midfield will be the backbone of the team in that it offers such a wide range of experience. "We will have what is probably the deepest midfield we've had over the years," Weiss said. "We have a lot of returners, including a pair of fifth-year players in Ben Nason and Scott Spangler, and we're looking forward to them wearing the captain's armband and bringing all of that experience to the pitch." Nason returns after tallying six goals and 11 assists in 2006, and he currently sits second on Tech's all-time career assist list with 23, and eighth on the shots list with 166. In addition to Nason and Spangler, Tech returns a third playmaker to the field in Charlie Campbell, a sophomore who was named to the ACC All-Freshman Team last season after recording seven assists and taking nearly all the corner kicks. The second trio of returners - Scott Dillie, James Gilson and Jonathan Collier - were all defenders at one point but have made their presence felt elsewhere. Gilson was one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring, and Dillie can play anywhere on the field. "James is a guy who probably did the most in games this spring," Weiss said. "He moonlit as a forward, but will probably see his time at the outside midfield position. Scott will play in the midfield or up front where he's been in the past, and Jonathan moved to the left midfield position from defender and had a solid performance there." Four freshmen - Clarke Bentley, Craig Burnell, Brent Hooper and Chris Kaufman - round out the midfield contingent after very solid youth careers. DEFENDERS The Hokies went from a top defensive team in 2005 to one of the better offensive teams in the country in 2006. The goal for the upcoming season is to meet somewhere in the middle. "Certainly, our focus this fall will be to improve on our defensive effort," Weiss said. "Our defensive success will be tied to the goalkeeper situation, and vice versa. There were a lot of questions last year because of injuries, but both Alexander Baden and Bryan Collier will be back healthy from long-term injuries." Baden only played the second half of last year, while Collier was only available for the first half. Additionally, Marcus Reed takes over as the left back after moving from offense where he was the team's third-leading scorer a year ago. "I think we'll have an excellent back line with those three guys," Weiss said. "Then we've got to plug in one more player who is either new or who wants to step up and prove he belongs there." That fourth guy could either be Craig Brutus, a sophomore who played forward as a freshman but impressed as a defender in the spring, or James Shupp, an incoming freshman who has shown he can play. Other players including Taylor Walsh, Max Allen and Georg Zehender can also fill in. "We have a lot of flexibility so in case we're stretched again by injuries, we'll be able to come up with a solid back line, unlike last year when we had to shuffle around a lot. We're looking forward to having all of these great players available." GOALKEEPERS One of the biggest advantages that Tech will have this season is experience at the goalkeeper position. The Hokies entered 2006 with a handful of net-minders that had a combined 30 minutes of collegiate playing time, but senior Drew Czekanski and sophomore Brendan Dunn split duties during the course of the season and return a year older and better. A third keeper, incoming junior Markus Aigner, will be in the mix for the starting job after playing recently in the German fourth division. "I feel good knowing that we have two keepers coming back who got a lot of time last year," Weiss said. "We still need to figure out who the starter is going to be, and it's going to be the most competitive position. All the guys have great mentalities, and they will respect whatever decision is made in the end." Sophomore Stefan Caulfield redshirted a year ago and should be in the mix as well, while Robert Meinert will help push the veterans as he adjusts to the collegiate training process. Finding the right keeper will be the final piece to a puzzle that has been five years in the making for Weiss. "We know we can score goals and entertain our fans with attacking soccer, but we will have to improve our defensive awareness," he said. "We need to get that improved defensive performance that we know we have to have in order to keep our tough competition at bay. "It should be fun and competitive to see our team unfold at the start of our fall season, because in every department, we have both experience and newcomers that will give us the ability to be 16-18 players deep as opposed to just 10-12."