Men’s soccer strives to improve with new group

Noah Thomas | Sports Editor

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Graduating 11 seniors from a team that was already in the process of rebuilding would pose a challenge for any coach, but Aidan Heaney, head coach of UNC Wilmington’s men’s soccer squad, believes the cohesive nature of his current players will allow his club to power through the loss of experience.

The team first reported for practice last Monday and has since been working out the kinks that show up when a team hasn’t been together full-time for a number of months.

“It’s a really cohesive group of guys,” Heaney said. “When you’ve got a lot of new players coming in, it takes time to get that understanding between players and I think that’s been the thing. The effort and attitude level’s been really good, so I’m very happy with them.”

Heaney talked of how cohesiveness will benefit his team moving forward. To him, the family environment and hardworking attitude of the men is one of their biggest strengths.

“It’s been one of the strengths — the teamwork aspect — and I think we’ve got talented players, but one thing is we’ve got to create a family atmosphere and promote that. It’s a good sign when you’re on the training pitch and those guys don’t want to leave when it’s time to go. You almost have to drag them off. I think that environment is crucial.”

Of those 11 seniors that finished their careers in 2015, two were pieces that will be hard to replace. Colin Bonner — who was taken in the third round of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft — and Michael Mecham, who is now with the Wilmington Hammerheads, left big holes to fill for this year’s leaders.

Senior defenseman Gary O’Neill will try and continue the success UNCW saw on defense a year ago. The Seahawks finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association with only 23 goals allowed in 19 games.

“Everyone’s going to assume losing 11 seniors is going to be the biggest difference, but I don’t think that’s the case,” O’Neill said. “I think we’re a totally different team from last year. Sometimes we relied on our physicality and pace up front, and now it’s a different scenario where we’re a bit smaller, more technical, pass around, and have the ability to play a lot better than the prior year.”

Coach Heaney said the absence of Bonner and others necessitated a change to the offensive schemes the Seahawks will run in 2016. The new things they do will revolve around the difference makers on the team.

“We’re a different attacking team, but I think there’s some pieces there,” he said. “Our attack is completely revamped, but it’s a different type of attack around this core group of players.”

As far as picking up the production needed to win games, Heaney said that duty will fall upon O’Neill, senior forward Julio Mancada, and the freshmen who are still learning to adjust to the college game.

One of those fresher faces is Mark Lindstorm. A freshman imported from Sweden, he provides a towering presence on defense with his 6-foot-3, 200-lb frame.

Lindstrom said he liked the high level of energy brought on by those returning from spring practice.

“I think that, building off of what we did in the spring, we’re getting off on the right foot,” he said. “We’ve had some good intensity. The players who were here in the spring continued working good and those who came in now are also showing good spirit.”

Deciding to make a big splash in his first outing, Lindstrom scored the lone goal of UNCW’s 1-0 exhibition win over Gardner-Webb on Monday.

“It’s always a bit nervous playing the first game, but I think everyone did a good job,” he said.

The Seahawks have one more exhibition coming up Saturday when they visit Wake Forest. Another home match does not roll around until Sept. 9, when Marist visits Wilmington as part of the UNCW Springhill Suites Classic.