Trojan men have lofty aspirations
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on August 23, 2006 2:14 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- As Mount Olive men's soccer coach Jerry Riggs enters his fifth season, the program continues to grow as 21 players return from a team that spent six weeks in the Adidas/NSCAA Division II Top 25 in 2005.
With that level of retention, the Trojans have set two high goals for 2006.
1) Win the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference regular season outright.
2) Get into the NCAA tournament.
With a CVAC tournament championship in 2004 and achieving a Top-10 national ranking for the first time last year, these two marks are essentially the last two hills Mount Olive has yet to climb under Riggs, who is now 38-33 all-time. To reach these goals, the fifth-year coach put together a tough schedule that will boost the Trojans' chances of finishing the season as one of the top four teams in the region and into the tourney.
Their slate features a total of six regional non-conference opponents, including North Georgia and Lander out of the gate at the season-opening Sleep Inn Classic at Mount Olive on Saturday and Sunday. Southern Virginia, USC-Aiken, Chowan, Guilford and Francis Marion (S.C.) round out the Trojans' non-league slate.
On top of that, Riggs views the CVAC as parity-filled and like last year, he believes the league title and most of the conference positions could easily come down to the final day of the regular season on Oct. 21. The Trojans (11-6-2 overall) finished tied with Anderson (S.C.) for third in 2005 at 6-3-1, while Queens won the regular season crown at 9-1. The Trojans were picked to finish third -- behind Belmont Abbey and Queens -- in the 2006 preseason coaches poll.
"We've got 16 quality regional opponents including our conference schedule," Riggs said. "If we get in the NCAA tournament, we took care of business against regional opponents. This is probably the toughest schedule that I've seen since I've been here. We're hoping we rise to the occasion and deal with it."
Belmont Abbey, 8-2 during the regular season, won the conference tournament on its home field last year. MOC will be looking to do exactly the same this season as the 2006 tourney will be played at Trojan Field on Oct. 28-29.
"It's added pressure, because you want to host and at least be in the final four," Riggs said. "But our whole year is important ... this could be an exciting year for us. We just need to get to work and get after it."
Riggs has been pleased with his team's ability to not look that far ahead as they have treated every preseason practice and exhibition importantly. Also, he believes the 21 returnees have acclimated the four newcomers to the daily grind of college soccer.
"The unity is very strong with 21 guys coming back. They have put the freshmen under their wing and let them get their feet wet," he said. "They are pushing each other. They are on time, eager, excited and hungry. We just have a little work to get that unity on the field."
On the attack
Mount Olive's second leading scorer, Woody Stilley, knocked in seven goals in 2005 and returns for his junior campaign. Bradley Carroll, also a junior, added five goals and should team with Stilley to form a formidable striker combination.
Freshmen Dante Hines (Cary) and Adrian Daniels (J.H. Rose) are showing promise at forward as newcomers.
"All four are going to play. It's just a matter of time ... who plays well with who as far as the rotation," Riggs said. "All four played have played well in our scrimmages."
One of eight seniors, Ryan Adamski is working primarily at midfield but may also see action at forward, while sophomore Matt Wallin is also versatile at both positions.
The Trojans averaged over five goals and 14 shots per game in 2005. Forty-one of their 49 goals were assisted. Mount Olive's season high for goals in a game last season occurred in its season-opening, 9-0 win over Chowan. In the rematch, the Trojans topped the Braves 7-0. MOC also posted an 8-0 win over Pfeiffer.
Last year's leading scorer, Reid Clewis, graduated and is currently an assistant for the MOC women's team. Clewis posted 10 goals during an all-CVAC campaign.
In the middle
The Trojans have plenty of experienced performers at midfield.
Senior Chris Jasso dished out three assists during a honorable mention 2005 CVAC season, while fellow senior Erik Small added three goals and three assists. Juniors Adam Caston (six assists, four goals), Chris Varella (five assists, two goals) and Matt Hobbs (three assists, two goals) also saw plenty of action as sophomores.
Cason Cherry played in only five games as a sophomore and had two assists in the limited action. Newcomer Edwin De La Cueva (Charlotte Harding) adds even more depth to the midfield.
"Most of those guys have been here two or three years, so they are familiar with the way we play," Riggs said. "The only one we are throwing new in is Edwin, so that's a big added plus for us right now."
Stopping the attack
Mount Olive's depth continues in the back as seniors Michael Garrett, Brandon Mills, Charles Williams and Ryan Capdepon all return to the defense. Mills was an all-CVAC first teamer last year for a team that yielded just 19 goals in 19 games.
"It seems like yesterday we were all walking in as freshman. We've all grown up together," Mills said. "There are eight of us seniors, and it will be great having all of us playing a lot of minutes."
Also a senior, Jordan Covington played in 11 games, while sophomore Josh Kiser participated in five games. White Oak's Josh Luna enters his freshman campaign as a Trojan defender.
Junior Chris Roush was a second team all-CVAC goalie in 2005. Roush, who posted four shutouts, started in 16-of-19 games and finished with 47 saves and 17 goals allowed with a .734 save percentage. Chase Smith played in three games and is a junior on the field, while sophomore Bryan Stitz is a sophomore. Even with Roush's numbers and performance last season, Riggs still was unsure of which goalie would start the first game.
"All three are working hard for that position and doing well," Riggs said. "We've yet to figure out who is going to win the position. We've got depth where we feel confident with all three of them."
Ryan Brown is a key loss to the defense, but he hasn't gone too far at all. Brown will enter his first year as an assistant coach under Riggs.
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