Seahawks hope experience leads to wins

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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Each new season brings new expectations and challenges for any team. For UNC Wilmington’s men’s soccer team, the squad is hopeful that another year of experience for the team’s young returning core will help the team climb back to the top of the conference standings.

Picked to finish fifth in the CAA this season by the head coaches around the conference, the Seahawks return seven starters, including six of their top seven goal scorers from a year ago. This includes sophomore Colin Bonner, who finished as the team’s leading scorer a year ago with 14 points with a team-high six goals and two assists, earning a place on the CAA All-Rookie squad in the process.

With only one senior on this year’s team, the Seahawks will lean on younger players such as Bonner and preseason First-Team All-CAA selection Jamie Dell to perform for the team.

“A year of playing at this level, they’ve gained a lot of knowledge in the last year,” said coach Aidan Heaney. “When you understand what the demands of being a student-athlete are in this year, it’s very rewarding. We have a group of guys that have a chance to be dynamic and have more opportunities to score more goals in the past.”

After winning consecutive CAA regular-season titles in 2008 and 2009, and also earning the program’s first NCAA tournament bid following the 2009 season, the Seahawks have taken a dip in the standings in recent years.

Going a combined 19-29-7, including a 15-17-7 record in the conference over the last three seasons, UNCW is hopeful that the return of so many key players will be a reason for their return to the upper-tier of the CAA.

“We’ve got the ability to create more opportunities,” Heaney said. “I don’t think we’re as strong as that team [2009]; they were exceptional with the mental toughness. I definitely think the key thing is being able to create and being tight defensively. We definitely have to be very aware of where we are on the field.”

One key cog to that defensive intensity will be junior Jacob VanCompernolle. The Dallas native has started 35 out of a possible 37 games for the Seahawks his first two years with the squad, and will be looked at to bring a veteran presence to a youthful starting 11.

“VanCompernolle and Jack Ward have done a great job as captains,” Heaney said. “The Collin Bonners are bringing something, leading by example. I expect so see more of those players emerge. If we do that, we’ll be very difficult to play against.”

The Seahawks have already started their season off fast, earning a 6-1 decision over Longwood and tying NC State 1-1 in exhibition games in August.

The team was then able to ride that momentum to the Bert & Iris Wolstein Soccer Classic championship, defeating Ohio State 2-1 in double overtime and topping Cincinnati 1-0 in the process.

Bonner was named the tournament’s most valuable player and was joined on the First-Team by VanCompernolle, junior Spencer Taylor, and freshman keeper Sean Melvin, who made eight saves on the way to his first collegiate shutout against Cincinnati.

The Seahawks return to the pitch on Friday, when they open their regular-season home schedule by hosting Presbyterian at the Hilton Garden Inn Classic at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve done well so far, we’ve had a good preseason,” Heaney said. “Guys have done well. We’re way ahead where we were a year ago. We hope it bodes well this year.