A haul of talented newcomers has the SF State men’s soccer team excited for what it expects to be a bounce back season.
After finishing last year with four wins and 10 losses, the Gators enter the season hoping a new group of 11 freshmen, joined by the returning athletes, can electrify the team into a winning season.
“I think we got a little short-changed last year,” said Head Coach Joe Hunter. “We had a lot of injuries, so it was really an unfulfilling year. It was a year we didn’t really know what it was going to be like, but I like the way that it did end.”
The team finished the year with three wins in the last four games after having only one win in the first 14 games. Team members hope to ride that late success into the upcoming season, but with an altered roster.
Graduated senior Edgar Villagrana led the Gators in scoring last season with four goals and one assist. Without him, the scoring slack will have to be picked up by new and returning players.
“Yeah there is added pressure on me,” said returning player Sam Merritt. “But I kind of like it. Pressure is good; I usually play well under pressure and hopefully I can use that to my advantage.”
Merritt, a sophomore defender, is the Gator’s leading returning scorer after posting three goals and two assists in his freshman season.
Along with Merritt, the team has high hopes that their crop of fresh faces will ease the scoring load.
“I think all of them are pretty unique,” said Hunter. “That whole freshman class was brought in here for a reason and if we can keep them together for a four year period, it’s going to be a good group, a special group.”
This is a huge shift in dynamic from last year, as the team was jam-packed with seniors. Only a pair of freshman, Merritt and Jared Magaoay, got significant playing time.
“It’s a big change to say the least,” said senior goalkeeper Anthony Rodriguez. “We have a good recruiting class so I’m excited. It’s the same goals as every season, having younger players doesn’t mean we are going to have a bad season, but the level these players bring to the game is exciting.”
There is naturally a lack of familiarity between the holdovers of last year’s team and the influx of new talent, so the demand for leadership is amplified.
“Some say leadership is a little overrated,” Hunter said. “Where I need to see it is out there, I need to see it through a player taking charge and frankly we really haven’t seen a captain evolve out of this group yet. We have a couple guys who we know can do that and we’re looking to see them grow a little bit.”
With only two seniors on the roster, some younger returning players are hoping to step up this coming season.
“I’m definitely trying to take on more of a leadership role than last year,” Merritt said. “(I’m) talking to the freshmen every practice, encouraging them, giving them tips and pointers just from experience that I’ve had from last year.”
With so many new players, the team’s goal for the season is to play to its potential and learn each other’s playing styles, said Merritt. If the Gators want to finish higher in the standings this year, they will have to figure it out quickly.
“One of our biggest goals is to get these guys to mature as college soccer players,” Hunter said. “They’re coming in with a lot of talent physically, but the college game is a unique animal.”
With the season just around the corner, the Gators are anxious to test out their new weapons, especially against their rivals to the North.
“Playing Sonoma and Chico always gets our hair up,” Hunter said. “We just play in such a tough region, there’s no cheapies, so everyone is going to be a challenge.”
The men’s soccer season begins Thursday, Sept. 5 against Montana State University Billings at Seawolf Soccer Field in Rohnert Park, Calif.