Men’s soccer seeks to build upon success

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Men’s soccer seeks to build upon success

UNCW's Emil Elveroth (16) and Phillip Goodrum (10) get tangled up with one another during the Seahawks' 2-1 loss to College of Charleston on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

UNCW's Emil Elveroth (16) and Phillip Goodrum (10) get tangled up with one another during the Seahawks' 2-1 loss to College of Charleston on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Joe Browning/UNCW Athletic Communications

UNCW's Emil Elveroth (16) and Phillip Goodrum (10) get tangled up with one another during the Seahawks' 2-1 loss to College of Charleston on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Joe Browning/UNCW Athletic Communications

Joe Browning/UNCW Athletic Communications

UNCW's Emil Elveroth (16) and Phillip Goodrum (10) get tangled up with one another during the Seahawks' 2-1 loss to College of Charleston on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

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Another UNC Wilmington men’s soccer season is upon us. After an eventful 2017 season, which saw the program soar to new heights, UNCW’s squad and coach Aidan Heaney will enter the 2018 season with a renewed sense of optimism and high expectations.

When we last saw the Seahawks…

…they advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division I College Cup for the first time in three years after earning as high as 15th in the national rankings which included a 1-0 home win over no. 3-ranked North Carolina at the start of the season.

After a second place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association regular season standings, they qualified for the CAA conference final. Despite a runner-up finish to fifth-seeded William & Mary – a team UNCW beat during the regular season – the Seahawks earned an at-large bid to the national tournament from the NCAA Selection Committee, their third appearance in program history.

After a 1-0 overtime victory over Presbyterian College at UNCW Soccer Stadium in the first round, the team advanced to the second round to face UNC in a rematch of their early-season meeting. However, UNCW’s opponent again got revenge when it mattered most, and the Seahawks fell 2-1 to the Tar Heels in Cary.

Coach Heaney stated how the players have moved on from that game against Carolina heading into this season.

“Never mentioned it once,” Heaney said. “Don’t need to. The players are already aware of what it takes to keep improving…we had a really productive spring as well, so that game is in the distant past and we’ve just got to keep moving forward, really.”

“It’s not about beating Carolina; it’s about becoming a better team.”

Personnel changes

UNCW’s 2017 core remains largely intact, with the Seahawks returning eight of 11 starters and 18 players overall. The team lost forward Julio Moncada and midfielder Kalvin Kromer to graduation, and last season’s CAA Rookie of the Year defender Hjalmar Ekdal signed a professional contract in his homeland of Sweden at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. However, Moncada’s penchant for goals (seven goals and two assists last term) and leadership abilities as team captain cannot be replaced.

Stepping in for Ekdal will be fellow Swedish defender Wilhelm Nilsson, a junior transfer from St. John’s University who will inherit his predecessor’s no. 12 jersey. Moncada’s no. 9, meanwhile, has been handed down to sophomore forward Emil Elveroth.

In addition to Nilsson, redshirt junior Danny Reynolds transferred from Louisville. Four freshmen also joined the squad.

Schedule and key battles

The Seahawks’ 2018 season kicks off in the College of Charleston Tournament, where they will play Stetson on Aug. 24 and West Virginia on Aug. 26. The team’s first home game will be against Jacksonville on Aug. 30 before visiting Longwood for a Labor Day matinee on Sept. 3 – UNCW beat both teams last year.

The season schedule features five other teams who also qualified for the College Cup in 2017, including a visit to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels as well as a home game against NC State. UNCW will also face local rivals Coastal Carolina amid its conference schedule.

“If you look at it, it’s pretty difficult,” said Heaney. “Right out of the gates we’ve got the Charleston Tournament where we play Stetson and West Virginia. We’ve got Jacksonville coming in, who we played last year. We got UNC Asheville and Fairfield at home early in September, and Fairfield made the tournament last year. We’re going to have to do well and those teams are going to test us before we go into conference play. Our NC State and Coastal Carolina games later in the year may be important for us.”

“If we try and do well early on and really test ourselves – and we may take some knocks along the way – that will set us up well for CAA play.”

Players to watch

Joel Bylander, Elveroth (five goals and two assists), Phillip Goodrum (seven goals and five assists in 2017), and junior Mark Lindstrom were all named to the Preseason All-CAA team, giving the Seahawks the most representatives with four. All four, as well as senior midfielder Ben Fisher (two goals and five assists), received All-CAA nods last season.

“I think the entire team gave us a taste of what we can achieve and what that next step for us is,” said Goodrum, who was promoted to captain for this season. “It shows what we’re capable of and that this year can be really special…and our team has the opportunity to be great as well.”

The players came into camp feeling confident that they will continue to improve this campaign.

“We have a good group of guys,” said goalkeeper Ryan Cretens. “The end of last season gave us extra motivation. We knew we could do it last year, and we know we can do it this year – it’s just putting forth the extra effort and maintaining focus.”

Questions that need to be answered

Will UNCW continue to show further progress after last season?

Will Elveroth and Nilsson fill the boots of the players they replace?

Can the Seahawks return to the national rankings – and perhaps place even higher than they did last?

All these and more will be answered by this campaign.