BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The Union College men's soccer team begins their 2014 campaign on Friday afternoon, and one word comes to mind when head coach Tyler Brock (in his 12th season at the helm of the program) talks about his team - consistency.
Last season was a roller coaster ride to say the least for Union. After finishing the regular season with an 8-7-3 overall mark (3-5-1 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference), the Bulldogs were forced to hit the road for the entire 2013 AAC Tournament. But, the Bulldogs finally found their footing there, winning a play-in game before bowing out to eventual Tournament Champ Bryan (Tenn.) in double overtime in the quarterfinals.
This season, Brock hopes a new team attitude, along with a talented roster of returners and fresh faces, takes the Bulldogs on a smooth ride through the regular season.
"We've been really happy with what we've done as a team this preseason," said Brock. "We have a nice set of returners and those guys set the tone last March when they had a team meeting. They've carried over what they talked about in that meeting to preseason practices and everyone had bought into the new system.
"We're still young, but we're a lot more balanced this year and have a lot more leadership, as well. I'm excited to see what we can do once we get going."
The Bulldogs return several key players from last season's team that look to pick up where they left off in 2013.
Leading the way in sophomore forward Alex Smith (Montego Bay, Jamaica), the Bulldogs' leading goal scorer in 2013 when he found the back of the net 14 times, a team-high. Fellow sophomore Andre Scott (St. Catherine, Jamaica), who scored three goals and added four assists, look to once again pace the Union front line.
Elsewhere, seniors Victor Lima (Sao Paolo, Brazil) and Hugo Sanchez (Dallas, Texas) have stepped up big for Brock in preseason practices, who are currently fighting for starting positions after spending most of last season coming off the bench for Union. In net, junior goalie CJ Hopkins (Surrey, England) returns after making 14 starts in between the pipes last season, making 59 total saves.
Rounding out the group of returners to watch for is Josh Arberry (SO/Keynsham, England), Jamie Mclellan (SO/Manchester, England) (who is 100 percent healthy after nursing an ankle injury most of last year), Jordan Johnson (JR/Richmond, Ky.), Thales Galan (SR/Santo Andre, Brazil), Steve Moore (SO/Essex, England), George Carroll (SO/Chester, England) (who looks to take on more of a leadership role), Dawson Marcum (JR/Richmond, Ky.), and Josh Reed (SO/London, England), who will join Smith and Scott up top on the attack for the Bulldogs.
Brock has once again brought a talented group of newcomers to the Bulldog men's soccer team, mixing a group of not only true freshman, but a crop of junior college transfers, as well.
Pacing the group of freshman is Luke Hitchman (Chester, England), a 6-foot-2 midfielder who Brock expects will contribute from the opening whistle in 2014. On the transfer end, Andy Clark (Glasgow, Scotland) (a sophomore goalie), Sean Robertson (JR/Glasgow, Scotland) (a junior forward), and Jordan Gill (SO/London, England) (a sophomore defender) will look to push for playing time right away at their respective positions.
Rounding out the newcomers to watch for is freshman goalie Darian McCombs (Hopkinsville, Ky.), fellow freshman Steve Beilby (York, England) (a defender), Tanner Forrest (La Grange, Ky.) (also a defender), and junior Nashaun Senior (Clarendon, Jamaica) (a midfielder who was the MVP at his JUCO last season).
A challenging slate awaits the Bulldogs once again in 2014, as the team opens the season this weekend hosting the second annual Thomas Trammell Memorial Classic at Burch/Nau Field. Union takes on St. Catharine on Friday, and close the Classic out with Crown (Tenn.) on Saturday. Both matches start at Noon.
Following three straight road out-of-conference matches against in-state foes (Brescia, Asbury, Cumberlands), the Bulldogs return home on Sept. 16. hosting Georgetown (Ky.). AAC-play then begins on Sept. 20 with a tilt against Montreat (N.C.), as the Bulldogs host Tennessee Wesleyan, Bluefield (Va.), Bryan (Tenn.) and Point (Ga.) in league play in 2014.
On Sept. 23, the Bulldogs host one of their biggest out-of-conference matches in program history, as Union entertains defending NAIA National Champion Martin Methodist (Tenn.) at Burch/Nau Field. The team will also travel to No. 7 Rio Grande (Ohio) on Oct. 15, and host Maine-Fort Kent in their annual homecoming contest on Oct. 18.
To view the full 2014 Union College men's soccer schedule, click here.
In the end, Brock looks to lead a talented group to a much more balanced season, void of the roadblocks that hampered the 2013 edition of the Bulldogs.
"Everybody is going to say they want to go to the [NAIA] National Tournament," said Brock. "We're still a young team, but we have some more experience now compared to last year. Overall, I'm conservatively excited about this team, I think we can make a run. The question is how we handle adversity, but I definitely see our team being much more disciplined this season.
"Without question, this is the most talented team we've had in my 12 years here."