Rookies ready for new season behind returning vets

Senior Taylor Morgan moves around the Catholic goalkeeper for another preseason goal
Senior Taylor Morgan moves around the Catholic goalkeeper for another preseason goal

The last men’s soccer championship came to Fairfax in 2008. Ryan Gracia and Draymond Washington were young, hungry players in a nationally ranked recruiting class and saw a quick reward for their decision to select Mason.

But now both players are gone, playing professionally in Sweden and Tampa Bay, only to be replaced by a new group of athletes. Twelve freshmen fuel the team this season for the Patriots and the leadership void is filling quickly.

“I think they meant a lot to the team,” said senior Taylor Morgan. “But looking at the squad we have now, I think it’s very strong, and hopefully we can push on from last season.”

Among this year’s players are junior Sean Cote, who guided the team in goalkeeping minutes last season, and Morgan who led the team’s scoring effort. Last year’s 9-goal, 5-assist effort was a career high for Morgan, who led the Patriots in both categories.

Even between the front line and the goal, the team boosts strong returners. Despite losing All-Rookie Verneri Valimaa to the UNC Tarheels, the Patriots stay strong in midfield play.

“Alex Herrera and Julio [Arjona] have been great in leading the team, Taylor and Wes [Sever] up top,” said Coach Greg Andrulis. “Wes is finally healthy. Those are the guys that have been terrific in training, and they’re beginning to form a nice, tight duo. I think they’re going to cause a lot of trouble.”

In Tuesday’s exhibition, the starters played a strong 30-minute period, enough to put the team well on their way to a 7-0 victory over Catholic University. It was a perfect opportunity to give the new blood some time to get used to college athletics.

“That is a lot of youth. It was good we got them in,” Cote said. “They played 60 minutes tonight, and pretty much all of them played together. So they’re getting a rhythm, and its good that they come out in preseason to play a game. It’s their first college game; all the butterflies are out.”

With Michael Butts, Mason adds to its already formidable goalkeeping pool. As a senior at Osbourn Park High School, Butts took All-Met honors and played with the team that won the U-17 State Cup Championship.

Ghiles Harmouche, the All-Met Player of the Year, brings another scoring leg to the team. His 11 goals and six assists in high school may be indicative of his future potential with the team and in possibly filling the void when Morgan leaves after this season.

“We lost a lot last year, and we’re losing a lot next year, and we thought this was a year to try to bolster some things,” Andrulis said. “Some of the freshmen need some seasoning, and it’s good because we have a good group of upperclassmen.”

The rookies were not the only storyline this offseason. Juniors Cote and Dustin Butcher have been battling over the starting goalkeeping job.

Cote held the minutes edge, 1258 to Butcher’s 448, and led with a .633 save percentage, but not without problems. Despite his percentages, Cote held a losing record of 5-6-3 while Butcher evened out at 2-2-0.

Butcher played the entire exhibition against West Virginia to a 0-0 tie, solidifying his resume for the season. Cote played the first 30 minutes of the Catholic exhibition without allowing a goal.

“We’ve just got to keep battling,” Cote said. “Every training session matters. We’ve just got to perform because on the day, it’s whoever’s playing better.”

Andrulis has historically shied away from commenting on how the keepers stack up to one another, but he seems to have decided on a starter. He will wait to see how each performs early in the season before settling on a late-season starter if the last two seasons can serve as a guide.

The CAA should be competitive again this season with talent from top to bottom. Old Dominion found the first-place nod in preseason polling, receiving 99 points and nine of 11 first-place votes, for the end of their term in the CAA. But even as a young team—12 freshmen despite seven seniors--the Patriots are getting along well in the eyes of the conference. The team took one first-place vote in the polling and a point total good for sixth in the league.

“It’s a good group. They’ve had a terrific preseason, and we’re growing as a group,” Andrulis said. “There’s a lot of new faces; we have basically almost half the team as new guys. Getting everybody to mesh together obviously is what preseason is all about.”

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