The Maryville College Men’s Soccer Team has shown a strong beginning to their 2017 season with victories over their first six opponents in the regular season.
The team began their season with two home victories over East Mennonite University (2-0) and Wilmington College (2-1), allowing them to claim 2017 Maryville College Invitational Title. The following weekend came with two more home victories against Pfeiffer University (2-1) and Huntingdon College (3-1).
“We have experience on our side, and our high fitness levels have helped lead us to a great start,” Head Coach Pepe Fernandez said. “They’re a group that is used to winning, which has allowed us to get some pretty great wins at home.”
After those initial four wins, the men packed up the bus and headed to Virginia to play two tough conference opponents. The game against Ferrum College proved to be a tough match. Goals came late in the second half from sophomore Johnny Rakhmonberdiev and then later from senior Cody Vankerschaever to end the game with a 2-1 victory.
“We all came back to Maryville with good fitness and were ready to work,” Vankerschaever said. “We have great team chemistry, and we all want to win.”
The game against Averett University proved to be an even tougher match that ended only after junior Randy Reichenberger scored the finalizing goal.
With last year’s remarkable regular season and post-season tournament titles, the team has definitely set a precedent for years to come.
“Winning conference last year has helped us with recruiting, but it has also put a target on our back,” Fernandez said. “Everyone wants to knock off the reigning conference champs.”
This newfound precedent has proven to be true, as shown by the strong competition the men have faced this season.
“We put expectations on ourselves, both in practice and in games,” said Assistant Coach Jon Baker. “Last year gave us the idea that when you work hard together you can come out on top. We want to continue that.”
An obstacle the team faces this year is the loss of five memorable seniors from the 2016 season. The graduation of these players left holes in the defense, midfield and forward positions. It also saw the end of an era so strongly marked by Kory Yarlett, one of the most charismatic and positive players the program has even seen. Each player from this group earned at least an All-Conference award, and for Caleb Lucas, two All-American awards.
“It’s hard to fill the hole of goals scored, but the team is responding well to that,” Fernandez said. “What will be harder to replace is the leadership that Kory [Yarlett] possessed on and off the field.”
Both coaches and players show positive outlooks for the remainder of the season.
“As we move through the season, our focus is on the first half of the game we’re playing,” Fernandez said. “We take it one half at a time, working hard to win that half.”
Their sights might be only on the immediate future, but the fans are already making conference predictions. The reputation this group has created for themselves over the past few years is remarkable, and great things are to come in the following months.