Mountaineers begin first season in MAC
Published: Thursday, August 16, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 16, 2012 12:08
After a second-round NCAA tournament appearance last season, the West Virginia men’s soccer team will look to make a quick splash in its first season in the Mid-American Conference.
As they’ve been known to do under head coach Marlon LeBlanc, the Mountaineers will once again face a daunting schedule in 2012.
On the slate are matchups against three of the last five national champions, six teams that made NCAA tournament appearances, four conference champions and three teams that finished last season in the top 25.
"We have enough depth on this team to play a tough schedule and a long season," LeBlanc said. "This group just needs to stay balanced and come out and give their personal best effort every day."
LeBlanc returns at the helm for his seventh season after a solid season in the final year of Big East Conference play.
His premier focus is establishing a top-tier program to compete with the nation’s best.
The Mountaineers will waste no time doing that in 2012, as they embark on a grueling road trip early in the season starting against the defending national champions, No. 1 North Carolina. West Virginia will continue that road trip over the course of the next week against Wake Forest and Penn State.
West Virginia will begin its MAC season with a home game against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 23.
A big test in MAC play will come late in October when the Mountaineers travel to Akron. The Zips were picked to finish first in the conference this season, while the Mountaineers earned the No. 2 spot in the preseason poll.
The road contest against Akron could serve as a litmus test to see if West Virginia is ready to compete for a conference title in its first year in the conference.
"They’re a good team," said senior defender Eric Schoenle. "Obviously, two years ago they won the whole thing. They’re another team to be reckoned with.
"For right now we’re going to focus on ourselves."
Schoenle was one of 42 players selected for the preseason Hermann Trophy list. He was one of 11 defenders and the only Mountaineer selected.
The Hermann Trophy is the highest individual award presented to a player in intercollegiate soccer.
Former Mountaineer Ray Gaddis was selected the past two seasons.
After the regular season is over, the Mountaineers will begin the MAC tournament, which goes from Nov. 9-11, and will be hosted by the team that earns the league’s top seed in the tournament.
The Mountaineers will have their fair share of challenges with this schedule, especially against top-10 programs in UNC and Akron on the road.
Last season, WVU finished with a 11-8-1 record and a 6-3 Big East Conference record. For the second consecutive season, the Mountaineers fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, eventually falling to the Maryland Terrapins.
Preseason camp began on Aug. 8.
The Mountaineers opened up with an exhibition game against George Mason on Aug. 15.
Returning starters will feature sophomore forward Andy Bevin, senior forward Peabo Doue, senior defender Eric Schoenle, senior midfielder Travis Pittman, senior midfielder Uwem Etuk and senior midfielder Shadow Sebele.
"We have a very senior-dominated team," LeBlanc said. "It’s a good group. I’m very pleased."
With the freshman coming on board, there is always the process of getting them to adjust to a new environment. However, this year’s class brings an elite status to the program.
"It’s a little underrated – it came out the 24th best class in the country. I happen to think it’s a little better," LeBlanc said.
Last season, LeBlanc considered his team as one of the deepest he’s ever seen in West Virginia history. Despite injuries to key players like Sebele and Doue, the team was able to produce. That just shows the depth WVU had.
"This year I happen to think this team is now the deepest team we’ve ever had," LeBlanc said. "I think that should say something about the quality we have in this group."