MOC men's soccer preview
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 25, 2009 1:46 PM
What some may see as a slight against the program, Jerry Riggs sees as justified and a healthy source of motivation.
The Mount Olive College men's soccer team was picked to finish seventh in the 2009 Conference Carolinas preseason poll. Riggs, now in his eighth season with the Division II Trojans, welcomes the challenge.
"I wouldn't have thought any different just because of how good the league is," said Riggs. "Last year we were one win away from being in the top four. For us, it's motivation. The good thing is we have a good core of returners and they realize it's a reality that if we had finished better last year our preseason ranking would have been better.
"We have to prove it now."
Mount Olive returns eight starters from a team that went 9-7-3 in 2008 including a 3-4-3 mark and a seventh-place finish in conference play. Four of the Trojans' top five scorers -- Scott Mitchell, Angelo Acquah, Adrian Daniels and Sean Keener -- are back from a year ago. Riggs hopes that will lead to more consistency.
The Trojans stunned then No. 13-ranked Limestone (S.C.) 4-3 in overtime last season, giving the program its first-ever victory over a nationally-ranked team. However, Riggs felt his team struggled to turn in that same type of effort against lesser opponents.
Mount Olive started 0-2 in conference play last year and finished 2-3-3 in its final eight league games. That included a season-ending, 3-1 loss to Anderson (S.C.) in the opening round of the conference tournament.
"We've got to be consistent," said Riggs. "Last year we would beat a team ranked in the country or tie a team ranked in the country, but then we would tie a team we should be beating. With a young team you're always riding a roller coaster.
"We need consistency to where we know who's going to show up and where we're going to be."
Part of that search for consistency will involve finding a goal keeper to replace Chris Slaughter. Slaughter started 16 out of 19 games in 2008 and allowed less than two goals a game before deciding to join the military in the offseason.
Freshmen Aaron Knoerzer, Jamie Carano and Zac Scott have each competed for the keeper's job during the summer and Riggs said the trio is "working hard and taking the right approach."
With Daniels and Acquah as the lone seniors on the roster, Riggs will rely on a blend of returning sophomores and juniors to mesh well with a group of promising freshmen. Former Charles B. Aycock standout Alex Rodriguez, Zach Scott, Matt Cargile, John Mendoza, Kofi Brookman-Amissah, Ramon Gallardo and Kelly Keaton round out Mount Olive's freshman class.
"Alex is adjusting," said Riggs. "He's going up against bigger, faster and stronger players. He's finding out the hard way. Once he continues to work, read the game, understand you have to play quicker and faster, and get the ball off his feet, he'll be fine. He's having to make that adjustment to not taking so many touches."
MOC opens its 2009 season at home Saturday against USC Aiken. Game time is 7 p.m. at Amon Field.
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