SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's soccer team is ready to begin the 2017 season with hopes of returning to the Capital Athletic Conference tournament after a one year hiatus.
Second year head coach Alex Hargrove hopes the blend of returning players and fresh faces will help the Sea Gulls contend for a conference championship. The team returns 14 players while bringing in 16 newcomers.
"A large portion of this roster are guys that I've brought in here because I think they fit the Salisbury identity, and I'm just excited to get moving in the second season and see what these guys are capable of," Hargrove said. "There's a lot of young talent here and I think the sky is the limit. They've been chomping at the bit and I'm looking forward to seeing what they're able to accomplish."
The Sea Gulls finished last season with an overall record of 7-8-1 and a conference record of 4-5, though they boasted one of the best defenses in the conference. The Gulls led the conference in goals against with just 17, while tying for second in goals against average at 1.03.
The key to success this season will be the day-to-day mentality of the players, according to Hargrove. "Guys have to be ready to step on the field and compete," Hargrove said. "Whether that's training on Monday or match day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They just have to step up and be ready to compete. Take every minute and every rep like it's a conference championship match."
As for Hargrove, he's ready to build on his first year at the helm. "I've got a year worth of mistakes under my belt," Hargrove said. "Certainly, we got a few things right last year and there's a number of things we didn't, so just the confidence and the preparation that our coaching staff put in, in the offseason to make sure that our players are in a position to compete and be successful on match day."
Zentgraf has appeared in 53 games throughout his first three seasons, starting 32 of them. He leads the team in career points with 13 goals and three assists.
Zimmerman appeared in 14 matches last season, starting six of them. Hargrove expects the two seniors to lead the attack and help create chances farther up the field.
Another player to keep an eye on up top is sophomore Matt Hawkins, who tallied two assists in 12 matches a season ago.
Hargrove doesn't expect any one player to do all the scoring, but rather will look to a variety of players.
"Up top there's going to be a lot of different guys who are probably going to fight for some minutes," Hargrove said. "Between guys in that freshman and sophomore class, we don't expect there to be any one particular star out of there, but a lot of guys who are going to contribute some significant minutes and help this team accomplish its goals."
Sophomore Dolph Hegewisch headlines the midfield unit after he earned second team All-CAC honors in his inaugural campaign. Hegewisch led the team in scoring with six goals and three assists.
"Dolph had a breakout season for us as a freshman and scored some important goals and played a lot of significant minutes," Hargrove said. "We expect continued progress out of him, and he'll be a guy most teams know about, so we expect his life to be a little more difficult this season, but we know based on his preparation he's going to be up for the challenge."
Fellow sophomore Ryan Spadin also saw significant minutes in his freshman season, contributing three goals, which tied him for fourth on the team.
"We're looking for the opportunity for him and Dolph to continue the chemistry they built last year," Hargrove said.
A captain and starting center back a season ago, Kramer "is going to be an important piece back there for us, both as a player and his work off the field as a leader," Hargrove said.
The Gulls also return his center back partner from last year in Fell, who will be in his second season with the team after transferring to Salisbury.
Carrington was the second leading goal-scorer a season ago with five tallies and was tied for the team lead with two game-winning goals.
With three seniors, there is certainly plenty of experience and leadership on the back line.
A key addition on the backline is transfer Quincy Tyler from Frederick Community College. "He had a great two years there for a pretty strong community college program," Hargrove said. "He's looked great in preseason and he's made the transition pretty seamlessly."
The biggest question surrounding the team coming into the 2017 season is in net after losing two seniors to graduation, although Hargrove is confident that whoever is between the pipes will be able to get the job done.
Sophomore Samuel Roy is the lone returner of the goalkeeper group. "He had an opportunity to really develop, and he's looked great so far this preseason," Hargrove said.
"There's not a clear cut front runner in this group of three," Hargrove said. "It's a great, competitive group and we expect those guys to be pushing each other all season, just like we have with almost every position on the field."
While Hargrove admits that having one clear starter would be nice, he is pleased in the depth this group brings.
Salisbury's 2017 schedule features eight games in the newly redone Sea Gull Soccer Stadium and ten games on the road.
"We're really excited about our non-conference schedule this year," Hargrove said. "We've got a number of new teams, either teams our program hasn't played in several years or teams our program has never played."
The Sea Gulls kick off their season at home with the Elmer Lord Memorial Tournament September 1 and September 2 against Capital University and Gettysburg College. Hargrove expects the tournament to be more competitive than it has been in a few years, with two great tests early on.
After travelling to Neumann University, Salisbury will head to St. Mary's College of Maryland for the Seahawk Classic. Here they will take on Bridgewater (Va.) College and Oglethorpe University, who the Sea Gulls have never faced before.
"Those first five games there's not an easy one there," Hargrove said. "It's going to be a good test for this young roster."
Salisbury then has three more non-conference matches before beginning CAC play. "We're pretty happy with the out of conference schedule and preparing us for what we expect to be another very competitive year in the CAC."
The Gulls begin conference play on the road against Southern Virginia University on Saturday, September 23. CAC regular season play wraps up Saturday, October 25 at home against Wesley College.