West Virginia midfielder Luke McCormick attempts to dribble past a Marshall defender at Hoops Family Field on Nov. 24, 2019.

West Virginia midfielder Luke McCormick attempts to dribble past a Marshall defender at Hoops Family Field on Nov. 24, 2019.

A new era is upon the West Virginia men’s soccer program as new head coach Dan Stratford will take the pitch for the first time since being hired in January 2020. Stratford was slated to begin coaching in the fall but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Mid-American Conference moved its men soccer season to the spring.

Stratford coached at the Division II level for the University of Charleston until 2019. He is a WVU alumni who has found great success at that level, winning two Division II national championships in the last three seasons with the Golden Eagles.

WVU, on the other hand, is coming off its first ever MAC championship and its 14th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mountaineers made it to the second round of the tournament before losing to Marshall. 

Looking toward this season, Stratford has been impressed with the team’s progress and how hard they’ve been working since last August. 

“When the guys returned in August, we knew almost immediately that we wouldn't be having a regular season in the fall," Stratford said. "To an extent, we have been working toward the beginning of our season since August. We were really pleased with what we were able to achieve during that period of time.”

Star talent highlights the returning class of players for Stratford’s team, which includes goalkeeper Steven Tekesky returning for his senior season. 

Tekesky is coming off a career that includes 27 wins, which ranks him No. 4 in school history. Tekesky also brings along a career 4,658 minutes, five starts, 164 saves and 14 shutouts, along with a MAC Tournament MVP trophy and a spot on the MAC All-Tournament team in 2019. Tekesky will join his fellow senior Kevin Morris on the defense, with Morgantown native Elijah Borneo making up the back line.

WVU will have some young talent at midfield, with sophomore Luke McCormick returning alongside senior Pau Jimenez Albelda and junior Ike Swiger. Redshirt freshman Ryan Baer will play center midfield, while Nic Short returns for his senior season.

At forward, WVU will be led by juniors Josh DiMatteo and Tony Pineda, with freshmen Ciro Bourlot Jaeggi and Joseph Biafora also playing the striker position.

Although WVU has been successful in recent seasons in the MAC, historically the conference has been very competitive with many teams being contenders.

Stratford thinks it’ll be an interesting season with how much time has passed without playing games.

“With as much time that has surpassed since anyone last played, it’s very difficult to know exactly how that’s (the conference) all going to play out, until we start to get to some film and still wait until we see how these teams play a little bit more consistently,” Stratford said.

WVU begins its schedule with a match on the road against Charlotte on Friday, then has a trip back to Morgantown to face Northern Illinois on March 6. 

WVU will then travel to face Western Michigan on March 14 for its first MAC opponent of the season. Next up at home will be Bowling Green (March 17), then a trip to SIU-Edwardsville on March 21. 

WVU will then continue with a non-conference home match against Marshall (March 24), a road match for its second matchup against Bowling Green (March 28), then two consecutive home games against Akron and Western Michigan on March 31 and April 4, respectively.

Wrapping up the schedule will be two road matches against Akron on April 7 and Northern Illinois on April 11 with a final home game against SIU-Edwardsville on April 18.

Although with a new coaching staff, and a COVID-19 hiatus, WVU has the senior talent, roster depth and winning mentality to have a memorable 2021 season.