CASTLETON, Vt. – Joining their female counterparts as defending league champions, the Castleton University men's soccer team will head into its first season in the Little East Conference as a similar yet different group of players.
Castleton returns 14 players from its 2017 squad, including reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year Tom Kirk and Rookie of the Year Seraphin Iradukunda. Meanwhile, joining those athletes are 12 newcomers and 10 freshmen.
In his sixth year at the reigns, the 2017 NAC Coach of the Year, John O'Connor believes the mix of youth and veteran players will ultimately benefit the team.
"We have a lot of depth with players who can step in and help at any time. Our goal is to be playing our best soccer at the end of the season and hopefully, that earns us an LEC Championship berth. From there, anyone can with it."
O'Connor is looking at the leadership of Kirk as well as his co-captain Cam Rossi-Crete to pave the way. The supporting cast, which includes juniors Jack Kingdon, Colby Gay, Sean Springer, Jacob Godfrey and Iradukunda has made it easy thus far. The former two, in particular, was crucial to the Spartans success in 2017, tallying a combined 43 points.
"If it wasn't for Seraphin's fantastic rookie campaign, Jacob [Godfrey] could have very well have been the conference rookie of the year, himself. They're a known quantity now and the key will be how they react to the added attention they may receive."
When it comes to the rookie class, O'Connor thinks it is one of the most talented groups that he's ever welcomed into Castleton. The mix of a strong and in-depth background, as well as an expansive soccer IQ, has helped the newcomers blend right into the rest of the squad.
Beginning its season against Clark University will certainly be a good test for the Spartans as the Cougars were right on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2017. They picked up nine wins and pressed through to the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference Semifinals before falling. Yet, O'Connor and Castleton are well aware of the increase in difficulty in the schedule.
"We expect it to be tough, competitive and a step up across the board from the NAC. There are a lot of very good teams in the LEC and as the news guys on the block, we need to go in with a positive attitude looking to compete at the highest level we can every day. We know it's not going to be easy, so competing and challenging ourselves to get better everyday in training is the best preparation we can have."
Men's soccer will remain home for a match against former NAC foe Northern Vermont-Lyndon on Tuesday before heading out for a three-game road stretch. The Spartans will travel to face Clarkson University, SUNY Potsdam and Southern Vermont College over the span of four days.
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