CASTLETON, Vt. - Fifth-year men's soccer head coach John O'Connor is pleased to announce that nine players have committed to continuing their soccer careers at Castleton University starting in the 2017-2018 academic year.
"It's a bigger class we have had in the past couple of years but the exciting part is that it provides us with additional depth and competition in every position," said O'Connor. "With our non-conference schedule and the competitiveness of the North Atlantic Conference, it's important to have players who can push each other to be their best. This group replaces a highly successful graduating class. It allows us to keep moving forward in our quest to win the NAC while preparing our transition into the Little East Conference in 2018."
Joel Atutor, a 6'4", 200-lb. forward from Burlington, Vt., was a four-year letterwinner at Burlington High School, earning All-Metro Division Honorable Mention recognition in 2015. In 2014, he was the leading scorer on the Vermont Olympic Development Program team, helping the squad win the Region 1 Tournament to advance to the national tournament for the first time. He scored 50 goals during his time with the Blackwatch-Burlington Soccer Club.
O'Connor on Atutor: "Joel has a great frame, maturity and experience in the game that will give us a strong presence up top. His ability to hold the ball up as well as run with it gives us an exciting attacking dimension."
Alex Fernald, a 6'3", 182-lb. goalkeeper from Phippsburg, Maine, was a three-year varsity letterwinner and served as captain at Morse High School. He was named the team MVP after his senior season, when he recorded five shutouts and was a Second Team All-League selection. He played club soccer for both Seacoast United Mariners SC and DSA United. Besides soccer, Fernald also earned varsity letters in tennis and baseball during his prep career.
O'Connor on Fernald: "We saw Alex at our ID camp last fall and feel he is a player who has the potential to develop into a very good goalkeeper. His size and athleticism, combined with the training he will receive while here at Castleton, should push him in the direction he wants to go."
Zak Gillette, a 5'7", 175-lb. midfielder from Randolph Center, Vt., was a four-year varsity letterwinner and a two-time captain at Whitcomb Junior/Senior High School. He left Whitcomb as the school's all-time leading scorer with 113 career goals and 18 career assists, and he helped his team to the 2016 Division 4 state semifinals. A four-time offensive player of the year as well as defensive player of the year one time, he also earned four letters in both basketball and baseball.
O'Connor on Gillette: "Zak has been our radar for several years thanks to a recommendation by his club and high school coach. He's a tough and determined athlete who is coming off an unfortunate knee injury he suffered while playing high school basketball as a senior. Looking at the work he has put in since his surgery, we are confident he will make a full recovery and be ready to contribute whenever and wherever he can."
Jacob Godfrey, a 5'7", 150-lb. forward/midfielder from Castleton, Vt., was a captain and two-time Division I All-State selection at Rutland High School. He helped the team win conference titles in both 2015 and 2016, and he was the recipient of the Garafano Award in 2016. He was selected for the 2017 Lions Twin State Soccer Cup, and he played club soccer for Summit Football Club. Besides soccer, Godfrey also earned varsity letters in ice hockey and baseball, and he played American Legion baseball.
O'Connor on Godfrey: "Jacob is a local guy who I had the opportunity to coach in Summit FC in Rutland for the past couple of years. He's a tremendous three-sport athlete whose ability on the soccer field will only get better in the next four years. 'Spider' has the ability to make an immediate impact on the team no matter where he may play."
Seraphin Iradukunda, a 5'4", 150-lb. midfielder from Burlington, Vt., was a four-year varsity letterwinner at Burlington High School, helping the team with the Division I state championship in 2016. Collecting 24 goals and 18 assists, he received All-New England and All-American honors, pushing the team to a #15 national ranking by the NSCAA. He was selected for the 2017 Lions Twin State Soccer Cup, and he played club soccer for Blackwatch-Burlington Soccer Club.
O'Connor on Iradukunda: "We've known and seen what Seraphin can do through club soccer in the state. He's an explosive player who has the ability to break down players 1v1 or provide opportunities for other players. We are very excited to have him on board and expect big things from him."
Valter Jacobsson, a 6'1", 185-lb. defender from Skane, Sweden, played club soccer from Torna Hallestad for 12 years, serving as captain in the final two years. At Polhemskolan School, he was the chairman of the student council and involved in "School Democracy", where he worked against bullying and racism. When he was nine years old, he lived and went to school in Columbia, Mo.
O'Connor on Jacobsson: "Valter has been an exciting find for us from his first contact through his commitment to attend Castleton. His background in the game and coming from a culture where soccer is their primary sport will add so much to the squad on the field and off."
Ryan Nelson, a 5'10", 145-lb. midfielder/defender from Henniker, N.H., was a captain and four-year letterwinner at John Stark High School, helping the team reach the state playoffs in all four seasons. Earning First Team All-State honors in 2016 and Second Team All-State recognition in 2015, he scored 22 goals and added 14 assists during his prep career. He received the JSHS Scholar Athlete Award in both 2015 and 2016 and was selected for the 2017 Lions Twin State Soccer Cup. He played club soccer for GPS New Hampshire.
O'Connor on Nelson: "Ryan attended our summer ID camp last year, and we were impressed with not only his work rate but his technical ability and versatility. He can play in several different positions and our goal is to find the one which will bring out his strengths and help the team the most."
Abinash Rai, a 5'5", 155-lb. midfielder from Burlington, Vt., was a three-year varsity letterwinner at Burlington High School. As a senior, he collected eight goals and three assists to help the team win the Division I state championship. He received Second Team Division I All-Metro Squad accolades. Rai played club soccer for Blackwatch-Burlington Soccer Club.
O'Connor on Rai: "Our former graduate assistant Michael Tanke and I first saw Abinash as an underclassman playing against Cam Rossi-Crete, one of this year's co-captains, when we were recruiting him. Abi impressed us with his ball control and technical ability as well as his knack for making the players around him better."
Sean Springer, a 5'9", 155-lb. forward from Jericho, Vt., transferred to Castleton after playing two seasons at Johnson State College. He appeared in 30 matches for the Badgers, scoring nine goals and adding four assists. Before attending Johnson State, he was a four-year varsity letterwinner at Mount Mansfield Union High School. A two-time Second Team All-Metro selection, he scored 15 goals and added 31 assists, including 22 assists in his senior season, during his prep career.
O'Connor on Springer: "Sean joined us for spring practice this past semester after transferring last fall from Johnson State. He jumped in with both feet and is finding his stride within the team. His two years of experience and success playing college soccer will certainly help add depth in our attack."
The Castleton men's soccer team is coming off a 2016 season in which it finished second in the North Atlantic Conference standings with a 7-2 league mark as part of an 8-9-2 overall record. In 2017, the Spartans are shooting for their ninth 10-win season over the past 11 years and their first NAC Tournament title since 2008.