After winning the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championship in 2015, the Slippery Rock men’s soccer team experienced a bout of championship hangover in what ended up being a disappointing 2016 campaign.
Second-year head coach Steve Small has a refreshed roster, with more than half of the team being new to the program. Small thinks the new players he brought in will shape the team to better match his coaching style.
“The guys have all really bought in. It’s a fantastic group we have this year with 25 guys that all want to be here and work for each other,” Small said. “We have really high standards for this year and now we’re all used to each other and what we’re looking for in a program and it has the potential to be a fantastic year.”
As Small continues to settle in at The Rock he is hoping that the team continues to improve in areas that gave them problems in 2016. Last season SRU finished last in the PSAC in goals scored (19) and second to last in goals per game (1.118). In hopes of putting more balls in the backs of opposing teams’ nets this season, Small focused heavily on recruiting attacking forwards who have experience in scoring a plethora of goals.
“We brought in several players who have scored a lot of goals in high school and club,” Small said. “With the returning guys we made a big focus on attack and getting the ball in the back of the net.”
Returning for The Rock on offense is the junior duo of George Oakley and Justin Minda. Oakley led the team in shots with 28 and was third on the team in points with four. Minda finished third in shots (18) and second in points (seven). Joining those two on the attack will be junior transfer Igor McVeagh from Montgomery Country Community College. As a Mustang, McVeagh scored 23 goals over two seasons.
Also joining the team is freshman Brady Sittinger. Sittinger scored 73 goals in his four year career at Cathedral Prep, earning Player of the Year honors after leading Pennsylvania. with 44 goals as a senior. Freshman Connor Jobe and Sean Tinney were also 50 goal scorers in high school. Jobe set the Greensburg-Salem record with 52 career goals and Tinney scored 23 of his 50 career goals as a senior at Chartiers Valley.
The strength of the Green and White last season was their defense. The Rock allowed the fourth least goals in the PSAC in 2016 with 24 and had the fourth best goals against average with 1.41. Returning on defense are seniors Patrick Sullivan and Kyle Boyer, juniors Devin Hoffman and Kenton Keeslar and sophomore Liam Gasparotto. Sullivan was named a second team All-PSAC defender after 2016. Sullivan, Gasparotto and Hoffman proved to be stalwarts on defense, with each topping 1,300 minutes played last season.
Joining the Rock defense is transfer senior Tyler McCarthy who played two seasons at California University (Pa.) in 2013 and 2014.
In goal, Small will start senior Jonathan Sharp. Sharp split time with fellow senior Steven Rerick in 2016, playing in eight games with a 1.33 goals against average and 30 saves.
Small thinks that the team ended 2016 on a strong note and will look to continue that success into 2017.
“It took us a little bit longer than expected to get used to each other and what I was looking for and what they were used to doing with the previous coach and what he was doing,” Small said. “That adjustment was tough for quite a few guys but the second half of the season we were playing some fantastic ball and the guys really bought in by that point and really understood what we were looking for.”
The men’s soccer team starts play on Thursday, August 31 with a game at Walsh University. The Rock will play their first home game on September 8th vs. Tiffin University.