MOC men's soccer -- The hunter becomes the hunted
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 28, 2005 2:10 AM
Every program that improves from relative mediocrity to championship quality has to endure this factor -- the hunter now becomes one of the hunted.
Mount Olive's men's soccer program now finds itself in that situation, following a 14-5-3 overall finish which culminated in the Trojans' first-ever Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference championship. Coached by Mount Olive alum Jerry Riggs, the green and white turned in a 7-3-0 league worksheet last year and finished the season tied for fourth in the final NCAA Division II Southeast Region rankings.
From that team, the Trojans return 13 that started at some point in 2004.
CVAC coaches obviously like Mount Olive's chances to be right back near the top of the conference as they picked the Trojans to finish second in the 11-team league. Riggs, now in his fourth year, has never had a team picked to finish higher than seventh in a preseason poll.
"We've always been eighth or seventh. It's good to know we've gained some respect, and now have appreciation from other coaches," Riggs said. "It doesn't mean anything at the end of the year. We're now a moving target. We've been in that situation where we loved to play the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 because we could prove something. We know where we were four years ago."
One of Riggs' key goals when he came to the program was not only to recruit top-notch talent, but to keep those players for four years. Year by year, that mission is being accomplished. Mount Olive now has 11 upper-classmen (two seniors, nine juniors) on the roster in 2005.
"We're getting good retention. That junior class was my first recruiting class and next year we should have eight or nine seniors," said Riggs, now 27-27-7 overall and 13-15-3 in CVAC play as a head coach. "That's a big help having guys in the system in their third year. When that happens, you tend to do less teaching and more preparing for a match."
Mount Olive's depth came into play in impressive fashion last year. Key players Ryan Adamski, Erik Small, Brandon Mills and Michael Garrett all missed considerable action in 2004 as the Trojan reserves and underclassmen consistently stepped up.
"Having that experience in game situations is a huge factor," Riggs said. "To continue to be competitive in the CVAC and through the region with the injuries we had last year to key players ... the young guys stepped up. To pull out what we pulled out was incredible."
The Southeast region gets three selections to the NCAA Division II tournament for one more year before it expands to four berths in 2006. Riggs feels like an at-large berth in the tourney is within reach for the Trojans, especially given the strength of their schedule. After hosting Lander (S.C.) on Sunday in the Mount Olive College Invitational, the Trojans travel to face tough regional opponents USC-Aiken (9/8), UNC-Pembroke (9/28) and Francis Marion (10/5).
"It's there for us to succeed or fail. I made this schedule to prepare for and to help us get in the tournament," he said. "If we can win some games and keep the regional ranking high, we are in total control of our destiny. If we mess up, we can't blame anyone but ourselves. Last year, we had one bad week where we went 0-1-2 and that kept us out."
The Trojans, with 26 players on their roster, open up the season Saturday at home against Chowan College at 1 p.m.
Eastern Wayne graduate and CVAC Player of the Year Cory Worrell, a forward who set a school record with 23 goals last year, and midfielder Warren Atkins, the nation's assist leader in 2004 with 19, both graduated -- leaving big shoes to fill.
Riggs believes it may not be one or two players putting up huge individual numbers this year, but more of a combination of forwards and midfielders contributing to the scoring.
Senior forward Reid Clewis finished with 13 goals and 10 assists last year and was a second team All-CVAC performer in 2004. Clewis, sophomores Woody Stilley (three goals, two assists) and Bradley Carroll (two goals, one assist) are key returnees up front. Adding to the depth are newcomers Brian Fitzmaurice, a junior transfer from Louisburg College, and freshmen Matt Wallin and Bobby Allen.
"With the loss of Cory and Warren, we are trying to find multiple players to fill those roles, instead of one or two key players," Riggs said.
In the midfield, junior Erik Small is back from an ACL injury, while Chris Jasso (junior), Chris Varela (sophomore), Adam Caston (sophomore) and Matt Hobbs (sophomore) make up a solid corps of returners. Those five combined for 16 goals and 14 assists last year. Jordan Covington, a junior, is pushing for minutes this season at midfield and in the back, while freshman P.J. Pugliese has shown promise in the preseason.
Adamski (forward/midfield) suffered a hairline fracture in his orbital socket during an early practice and will miss the first four weeks of the season.
"We're not one dimensional. We've got guys that can play all over the place," Riggs said. "That makes you a better team."
Mount Olive defenders Charles Williams and Michael Garrett, both juniors, earned All-CVAC honors in 2004 and return to help anchor the back, along with team captain Ryan Brown (senior), Ryan Capdepon (junior) and Brandon Mills (junior).
Freshmen Josh Kiser and Jeff McGee should also push for minutes.
CVAC Tournament MVP Chris Roush, who allowed only one goal in 29 minutes of action in the tourney, returns for his sophomore year in goal. Roush was among the nation's leaders in goals-against average last year.
Mount Olive had four shutouts in 2004 and yielded less than one goal per game.
"Everybody is working hard. We are wanting to be successful like last year. Everybody has had a great attitude, they're positive, and the intensity has been good," Riggs said. "The young guys are getting used to the preparation and how serious it is.
"We're tired of beating up on each other. We're ready to play."
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