Sights Set High for 2016 Men's Soccer Season
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Head coach Ralph Lundy of the College of Charleston men's soccer team thinks the Cougars have what it takes to win the CAA this season, and he's pulling out all the stops for what he believes will be an all-time season.
"I feel good," Lundy said. "Our returning players are strong, experienced, committed to this great schedule we have, and I am excited."
The Cougars have had a successful run through exhibition season thus far, pulling out a 2-1 win over North Florida and a 5-2 win over Queens. On Sunday, they'll get a big early-season test when South Carolina comes to town for the final exhibition affair of the season. The nationally ranked Gamecocks will set the early tone for what's going to be an incredibly challenging non-conference schedule for CofC.
The Cougars' out-of-conference opponents in 2016 sport a combined 88-43-23 (.646) 2015 record, five 2015 NCAA Tournament appearances, and four Top 25 rankings in the NSCAA preseason poll. The Cougars will draw the likes of North Carolina (15-2-3), Coastal Carolina (13-3-4) and FIU (12-7-1) at home, and will hit the road for matches with Seattle (18-4-1) and Furman (8-5-6), among others. That's not even mentioning the College's high caliber CofC foes, two of whom (Hofstra and Elon) qualified for the NCAA Tournament in their own right.
"Our non-conference schedule is unreal, and that's what we want," Lundy said. "The College of Charleston should play the best because we are the best. This is where we belong."
The Cougars boast a veteran lineup that features eight seniors and nine juniors, and will look to use that wealth of experience to their advantage. Five players from the College garnered All-CAA acclaim, and all five make their return to Coach Lundy's program. First team keeper Kevin Shields headlines the group, and does so for a team that allowed the fewest goals (22) in the CAA last season thanks in large part to his heroics in frame. Joined by second and third team defenders Cesar Murillo and Leland Archer, the Cougars will once more look to clamp down on defense.
For the team to get where Coach Lundy wants them to go however, the team will need to rely on more than just defense.
"We have to score more goals, and we have some players that can do that for us," Lundy said. "We lost some 1-0 games last year, and I think we're going to win those this year."
A talented freshman and transfer class can no doubt help in that department, but players making returns from injury such as Avery Ryan and Eli Dent have proven track-records of putting the ball in the back of the net. The two have already made an impression in the preseason, with Ryan scoring a hat trick against Queens, and Dent hammering home the game-winner against North Florida. Despite playing in only four games in 2015 before a collarbone injury shelved him for the year, Dent still managed to finish the year as the Cougars' fifth-leading scorer.
"It was definitely frustrating getting my season cut short last year," Dent said. "It was upsetting and hard to deal with. But I've spent this offseason training with Nico (Rittmeyer), I feel stronger now, and I just feel anxious to get back out there and show everybody what I can do."
"The returning players are showing leadership, and that's the key," Lundy said. "We have some tremendous new players that have to blend in, and the key is putting it all together, that's the deal."
The Cougars wrap up the exhibition portion of their schedule at home Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. against the No. 24 USC Gamecocks. The following weekend, they host the Aaron Olitsky Memorial Soccer Classic at Patriots Point to kick off the season properly. They will be visited by No. 23 FIU, Navy, and former SoCON rivals Furman in the opening weekend.