It could be a historic season for the Belmont Abbey College men's soccer team.
The Crusaders are playing in their 50th season as a collegiate soccer program and are just 13 wins away from 500 victories as a program.
While that is one goal head coach Stuart Brown has for his team, it is far from the biggest.
“Five hundred is a goal, but our goal is to be playing in late November (deep in the NCAA Division II tournament).”
To accomplish that goal, Brown hit the recruiting trail like never before in the offseason, bringing in 21 new players to go with 18 returners from last season. Last year, the Crusaders finished 13-9-1 and lost in the semifinals of the Conference Carolinas tournament.
Brown will have to replace forward Luis Arrieta, who graduated after earning All-Conference Carolinas honors twice as well as all-region honors. Arrieta scored 30 goals with 11 assists over the past two seasons.
“We have to get more players forward. With Luis sometimes we would look only to him, but now we can commit more players forward because we have a lot of guys who can score.”
Of the returners, seniors Paul Goding – a third-team all-conference selection – Momo Kanneh, Christian Ocampo and Daniel Morrison have all proven to be able to score. They will be helped by a host of newcomers. A couple that Brown noted were freshmen Matt Powell of Garden Grove, Calif., and Max Pembleton of Nottingham, England.
In the midfield another freshman from Nottingham, Jack Reid, has established himself as a field leader, and Brown is counting on him to control that part of the field.
Next to depth, the team's biggest strength should be on defense. Seniors James Owusu and Kyle Fenner have both been first-team all-conference selections, and senior Bryan Alenky started 17 games in goal last season.
Alenky has been pushed in preseason by sophomore Louis Liberatore and freshman Brandon Alvarez, all of whom Brown has confidence in to be strong in net.
As usual, the schedule is challenging. The Crusaders have four games against ranked teams (Lees-McRae, Lander, Carson-Newman and Clayton State), as well as NCAA tournament-caliber programs such as Queens, UNC Pembroke, Tusculum and North Georgia.
With such a large roster, there can be issues within the team about playing time and team chemistry. Coming into the preseason that was a concern for Brown, but he says that worry went away almost immediately.
“I had a concern about how this team would gel, but they've grown together quickly. I've never had a team with this kind of chemistry, especially so soon, and I'm really excited to get this season going.”