Brizendine reflects on 2017 season that saw Tech reach the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament and place two student-athletes on ACC's First Team for first time in program history

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech men’s soccer program again made strides during the 2017 season, making the second rounds of both the ACC, and more impressively, the NCAA Tournaments. The Hokies finished the season at 10-10 despite facing the nation’s third toughest schedule and registered marquee wins, over ranked foes, Creighton and then-No. 1 Notre Dame at Thompson Field.

For the second consecutive season, Tech finished in the top 25 in RPI.

Let’s take a look back at the 2017 season in review.

Tech kicked off the season with an impressive 2-0 win over then-No. 14 Creighton, handing the Bluejays their first home loss on opening night since the 1995 season.

After a stretch that saw the Hokies drop four of five, including the first two in league play, Tech went on a run, beginning with a 2-1 victory over Davidson. Kristo Strickler’s first career goal proved to be the difference as he curled in a strike with his left foot from the top of the box. The Hokies followed that performance with a 2-1 upset of top-ranked Notre Dame. Marcelo Acuna scored both Hokie goals and Ben Lundgaard recorded 10 saves on the night, his career-high. The next three outings saw the Hokies defeat Longwood, Boston College and South Carolina in succession.

Tech dropped its next four matches, with three of those coming against top 10 ACC opposition.

In the regular season finale, the Hokies traveled to Pitt for a matchup with postseason seeding on the line and took care of business with a 3-0 victory. Acuna was on the score sheet twice and Brendan Moyers added an insurance goal to secure all three points and the nine seed in the ACC Tournament.

Gaetan Roux’s first career goal in extra time saw the Hokies defeat NC State and go through to the Second Round of the ACC Tournament. The Hokies met Wake Forest for the second time and fell again 3-0.

On Nov. 13 the squad assembled in Lane Stadium to watch the NCAA Selection Show. After the first half of the bracket was announced, Tech finally heard its name called, and its opponent, the Air Force Falcons.

At Thompson Field, Tech took down Air Force 2-0 behind goals by seniors Collin Verfurth and Acuna. Lundgaard earned his sixth shutout of the season in the effort, which sent the Hokies to East Lansing, Michigan to face the national seven seed Michigan State.

In the Second Round, the Hokies fell to the Spartans 3-0 to end the season at 10-10.

Following the season, several Hokies were honored with numerous accolades.

Acuna, who was announced as a First Team All-ACC performer during the season, also collected VaSID First Team, United Soccer Coaches All-East Region Second Team and Top Drawer Soccer Best XI Third Team honors.

The senior from San Jose, Costa Rica led the Hokies with 13 goals on the season, with five of those coming in the game-winning variety.

In his two seasons in Blacksburg, Tech went 13-2 in games that Acuna found the back of the net.

Lundgaard, another First Team All-ACC performer, also earned Top Drawer Soccer Best XI Second Team and United Soccer Coaches All-East Region Third Team distinctions.

He had the most saves in the ACC in 2017 with 108 and recorded six shutouts. Lundgaard finished his career with 23, the second most in Virginia Tech history, just one shy of Chase Harrison’s mark of 24.

Elias Tamburini, a senior from Helsinki, Finland started all 20 games for the Hokies, playing every minute. He was recognized by VaSID as a Second Team All-State performer. On the season, Tamburini recorded five assists, including providing the cross for Gaetan Roux’s game-winner in the First Round of the ACC Tournament against NC State.

He was a member of the Hokies’ defense that recorded six shutouts.

Tech was also honored with the College Team Academic Award for recording a team gpa above 3.0 by United Soccer Coaches for the second consecutive season and seventh time since 2003.

Coach Brizendine sat down to reflect on the season in an interview found below

On summing up the 2017 season for the men's soccer program

Brizendine: “When I look back at this past season, I have mixed emotions. Obviously, I’m very pleased that we made it to the NCAA Tournament, we had a home game and we were able to advance. I thought all of those were excellent steps in the right direction. However, I thought we could’ve made a deeper run had Will Mejia, Burke Bender, and Nico Quashie been able to play. If we had those guys, I think we could’ve gone farther in postseason. So, I feel like we left a little bit on the table.”

On facing a tough schedule and finding success

Brizendine: “We had guys that stepped up for us this season. An example is Rodrigo Zampieri. He did a great job. He hadn’t played many minutes for us up until this point, and he played a lot and helped us get to the NCAA Tournament. Guys like that stepped up, and it helped us become very competitive. Ben (Lundgaard), Marcelo (Acuna), Collin (Verfurth), and Elias (Tamburini) got a lot of attention, but Rodrigo, Forrest White, Drew Ott and Gino Rossi also significantly contributed to our team’s success.”

On the senior class who was able to lead the Hokies to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances

Brizendine: “I know I speak on behalf of our whole staff when I say that we are really going to miss those guys. One thing that I can tell you about our program in the last couple of years is that we are in a good rhythm. Our training rhythm, our travel rhythm, team chemistry - really everything was great with the team. We really like our training environment, and our staff really likes being around them. So we will miss them dearly. I hope they are proud of what they have accomplished, and I hope they can see how they have helped the program from when they arrived to back-to-back NCAA appearances. They’ve helped build a foundation for us to move forward with in the years to come.”

On where the program is headed in 2018

Brizendine: “We lose some very good players, but that’s not to say the cupboard is empty. We hope to get Nico Quashie and Hayden Kickbush back off the injury reserve. Those are two guys that we expect a lot of that will be playing for us. When we consider the contribution of Kristo Strickler, Jon Ingason, Rory Slevin, Brendan Moyers, Emil Koho, we have some very good players returning. The job of the staff is to complement those guys with other good players, which I think that we’ve done. We’re very much looking forward to what the new season is going to bring. It will be tough on two levels. We have established ourselves as a NCAA team, so people are going to play aggressively against us, and we have some very big shoes to fill with many impact players graduating. Those guys aren’t easily replaced. So it will be a challenge, but I think that the group is prepared for it. I think they know what it takes, and they’re committed to winning. If we have that, we will win games.”

On Ben Lundgaard and Marcelo Acuna as they look to extend their playing careers at the next level

Brizendine: “As I look around at the wall here (in his office), I see pictures of guys who played for us who are playing or have played professionally. Ben and Marcelo fit that mold. For example, Patrick Nyarko and Chase Harrison are great people that happen to be great soccer players. I think Ben and Marcelo are no different. I’m also excited for Elias and Collin to pursue playing professionally, and I am confident that they can do it. All four of them have the skillset, mentality, athleticism, and the training. I think those guys can be successful at whatever they do. Specifically, for Ben and Marcelo, they are going to the MLS Combine, which is important for them. They need to have a good showing, and hopefully they will get picked up by a team, go into preseason, and do well there. There’s a lot of opportunity in front of them, but there is also some work to be done to start off their pro careers the way that I think they want to.”

Final thoughts heading into the new year and the 2018 season

Brizendine: “With the success of the last two seasons, it has been encouraging to us to see high quality student-athletes want to be part of Virginia Tech’s soccer team. Recruiting has become better as our team’s success continues. We are looking forward to announcing our recruiting class after the new year. We have many new players, all of whom have varying skills and strengths. We’ll have three guys joining us this spring, two of whom are transfers. I’m looking forward to announcing them and our entire recruiting class on Signing Day.

Day in and day out, Jimmy Lawrence our trainer, is working endlessly with our athletes to keep them healthy, help when injuries occur, and facilitate the road to recovery. He was kept busy this year with many injuries. Our team’s nutritionist, Matt Luongo, did a great job by planning out all of our meals and snacks for the past two years. It is probably the biggest area that we have improved on during that time. Tim Moore, in academic advising, has been helpful in aiding the student-athletes in their task of managing academics and athletics.

In regards to the 2018 fall season, I am really encouraged by the path our program is going in, and I am confident that the current players are committed to another amazing year. Our staff is anxiously awaiting getting back on the pitch with our new and returning players.”

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