Eventually, inevitably most every collegiate athletics program finds itself faced with such a significant roster turnover that it must create a new identity.
Call it a rebuilding year, a reloading year, a transition year, whatever.
That’s where coach Shaun Docking feels his Coastal Carolina men’s soccer program is this season after five straight NCAA tournament appearances and a substantial roster upheaval.
Docking isn’t conceding anything this fall – he’d certainly like to keep that NCAA tournament streak going – but he also knows the challenge this year is unlike anything those past five teams faced entering a season.
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“We’ve just lost so much from last year all over. We’ve lost 11 seniors I think, and out of that 11 you’ve got seven guys, eight guys, maybe, playing professionally. So massive losses,” Docking said before the Chants opened preseason practice last week. “So I think this is really a rebuilding year for us. Obviously our goal is to win the Big South again and try to get back into the NCAA tournament, but I think with this group, we’ve just got a lot of work to do in building the team and figuring out what pieces we have and trying to figure out how we’re going to play this year.”
The most notable losses from last year include leading scorer and Big South Attacking Player of the Year Ricky Garbanzo (eight goals, six assists in 2014), Big South Defensive Player of the Year Shawn McLaws, veteran defensive stalwart Uchenna Uzo and stout goalkeeper Devin Cook-Perales (0.94 goals-against average).
That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. Among those returning are junior forward Sergio Camargo (six goals, five assists), senior forward Bryce Follensbee (six goals, four assists), sophomore defender Elis Bjornsson (three goals, seven assists), sophomore defender Tommy Gudmundsson (six goals) and sophomore midfielder Martin Melchor (five goals, one assist).
Gudmundsson, a weapon on set pieces, was named the Big South’s co-preseason defensive player of the year.
I think this is really a rebuilding year for us. Obviously our goal is to win the Big South again and try to get back into the NCAA tournament, but I think with this group, we’ve just got a lot of work to do in building the team and figuring out what pieces we have and trying to figure out how we’re going to play this year.
CCU men’s soccer coach Shaun Docking
From that mix and whatever contributions come from the newcomers, the Chants should be able to find enough offense. But the bigger concern remains on defense where a once veteran, dominating back line will look a lot different.
“We’ve got some good individual players here, but they’re just new. They’re new to the college game and the U.S. way of playing,” Docking said. “A lot of transfers, a lot of new guys coming in, so again, just a lot of question marks. We don’t know. But we’re not too concerned. We’ve had five great years to this point and I think if we have not quite the same year this year, I think what we’re trying to do is put things in place for next year. So it’s certainly not that I’m discouraged; I’m just trying to be realistic.”
Based on reputation and their 2014 finish – including a 16-6-1 record and a first-round win in the NCAA tournament – the Chants were tabbed as the favorites again in the Big South and were slotted No. 21 nationally in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll.
They got their first competitive test Saturday in an exhibition game at UNC Wilmington, losing 2-1 on a late goal.
Coastal Carolina will get another gauge of its progress next Saturday while hosting North Carolina before opening the season Aug. 28 at Old Dominion.
Between now and then, meanwhile, the Chants will just continue looking for some answers to those many questions.
“We’ve just got to work it out in the preseason,” Docking said.