Familiarity is often a key to success and, with a roster boasting 20 returnees, Head Men's Soccer Coach Rolf Piranian expects W&L to build on the end of the season success from 2010, launching it to the top of the ODAC standings in 2011.
After starting last season with a 3-6-2 record, Piranian's squad responded by closing the season on a four-game winning streak, earning the sixth seed in the ODAC Tournament. The Generals went on to upset third-seeded Virginia Wesleyan in the tournament quarterfinals before falling to seventh-seeded Hampden-Sydney.
Part of the squad's success over the final games was a young roster that grew into its own, allowing Piranian to utilize a deep and talented bench. He was also afforded the opportunity to mix up his roster, shifting player's positions and formations, creating new offensive opportunities.
"We are picking up this season from where we left off in 2010," said Piranian, who is in his 36th year at the helm. "Add in a talented first-year class, and there is not a single position on the team where we're not at least two-deep."
Three forwards return in 2011, led by junior captain Dylan Norvell. A season ago, Norvell appeared in 16 of the Generals' 17 contests, netting one goal. Over the past two seasons, Norvell has continued to develop his offensive abilities, and Piranian finds him an invaluable asset to lead the team.
"We need a strong guy to play at the top, and he is the guy," remarked Piranian. "He is a hard worker and a great leader on the field."
"Phillips has played two seasons for us now, and brings a wealth of experience to the field," stated Prianian. "And Pristou has looked great in preseason. We are excited to see what he will bring again this season."
The largest returning unit is the midfield, where Piranian will have the luxury of nine returnees. Even with the stable of returners, Piranian noted that he also has a talented freshman class this season, which has created "strong competition for a starting spot with the [midfield] unit."
"Both players had a big impact a year ago," noted Piranian. "We are looking at them to continue to grow and provide a dynamic presence on the attack."
"Starr is a two-time captain and strong leader for our team," said Piranian. "He is a commanding presence and a critical player at his position."
A new face on the field of competition but not to the team is sophomore George Steuart. After spending his rookie season on the developmental squad, Piranian is looking forward to the energy and talent he will bring.
Flanking the center mids on the left side is the talented returning duo of senior tri-captain Connor Pierce and junior John Stallé. Both players appeared in all 17 of the Generals' contests a season ago, and Piranian labels them as "valuable, dangerous options on the wing."
Additionally, Piranian noted that Pierce played back for his first two seasons at W&L, but after moving to the midfield a season ago, he has developed into a vital player, controlling the ball in the middle of the field. He also remarked that Pierce is a "quiet captain, but leads the team by example."
One of the strongest units for Piranian in 2011 is the defense, which returns three of its starters from a season ago. Standing on the left side will be junior Basti Richter, who was the only player from last season to start all 17 contests while helping the defense post a 1.18 goals-against average.
Richter will be joined at the left back position by sophomore Julian Kindrish. Another call-up from the development squad, Piranian sees him making an impact and coming in with experience after spending a year around the squad as a rookie.
"Farley is a hard-nosed player and brings a lot of confidence back from last season," stated Piranian.
Hagenbarth, who was a mid-season call-up from the developmental squad in 2010, will also look to make an impact after playing in the final four contests of last season.
The final returnee with the defensive unit is sophomore right back Zach Clarke. Clarke appeared in 16 contests with 12 starts a season ago, registering one assist on the season.
"Clarke is a solid player, and someone we can turn to on the defensive end," remarked Piranian.
One of the biggest questions for the Generals this season will be the starting keeper. Losing both keepers that split duties a season ago, Piranian will look to senior Ben Petitto and a couple fresh faces in sophomore Robert Gerbo and first-year Albert Civitarese to fill the void.
Petitto has not seen much action since transferring to W&L from Rochester, but Piranian "hopes he steps it up, because we are expecting a lot out of him."
Gerbo was a member of the development squad as a rookie, which Piranian feels will benefit him when it comes to developing comfort with his teammates on the field.
"All three guys are on a level plain right now," stated Piranian. "We are going to use the first three games of the season to try and determine our starter."
Joining the Generals this season are five rookie players, providing even more depth and talent to the squad.
"The incoming class is high-impact," noted Piranian. "We are expecting them to be major contributors right off the bat, proving talent and depth to an already strong team."
A looming question for the Generals this season is how they will harness all of the talent into a winning season.
"We have the talent and depth to put together a great season," said Piranian. "It's just a matter of the guys developing the team chemistry and learning to work as a team to get us to the top."
Injuries have plagued the Generals during the preseason, but Coach expects his team to rebound and make a run to the top of the ODAC for the first time since 2000. Even with a disappointing preseason conference of seventh out of 11 teams, and a tough start to the season with four of its first games on the road, Piranian won't let it distract his team.
"We know we have the talent to put together a great all-around season and climb back to the top of an always-competitive conference, " stated Piranian.
The Generals start their season on September 1, traveling to face Bluefield College at 7:00 pm.
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