By Jamie Crawley
With August slowly winding down and classes kicking into full gear, that can only mean one thing: the fall sports season is here. Virginia Wesleyan’s fall sports teams are excited and ready for their respective seasons. With a new season comes a fresh start and a chance to accomplish the goals teams have set since last season ended.
Men’s Soccer is coming off a good season in which it finished 11-4-4 (7-2-2). The players looked to further improve upon that season and get back to where they were in 2013, and that is to get an Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) title. With that said, they have a lot of production that they have to account for. With the loss of key seniors, Isacc Arrington and Chris Cooke, who bolstered the scoring attack, the team still feels confident in what it has this year.
“Yeah, we graduate some guys, but every program has to go through that every year. But I think all of our returning guys have come in with the right mentality,” said senior goalkeeper Connor Kirkham. “I don’t think we’re going to lose any production, and pick up right where we want to be and get an ODAC championship.”
There is also a new face on the coaching staff. Brandon Eisenhart, formerly of Washington & Jefferson College, joins as the new assistant coach to the men’s team.
“First thing I noticed is there’s a big tradition here,” said Eisenhart. “The biggest thing is everyone seems to be on the same page, everybody works hard, and doesn’t seem to be any egos on this team. I’m just fortunate enough to be here and work hard to win the ODACs,”
One thing that is apparent with this team is the freshmen seems poised to contribute now.
“I think a big part of this is to see how the young guys step up and I think we have some freshmen that can come in and fill that role this year,” said head coach Chris Mills in regard to the departures of Arrington and Cooke.
An emphasis that he placed coming into this season was to come in shape.
Mills said, “We don’t have time, the preseason was short this year so we didn’t have as much time to get guys ready, and since we’ve been practicing we’ve been trying to get guys up to speed on the system we run as we tweaked it this year… so it’s been a lot of teaching and coaching going on; a lot of learning.”
Women’s Soccer comes into the season with a point to prove as the team’s nonconference schedule is one of the hardest in the country as there are a multitude of top 10 teams littered throughout their non-conference schedule.
“Playing top 10 teams in our schedule lets us show other teams in the nation who we are as a program. We also enjoy the competition and proving those who doubt us wrong,” says senior forward Kristen Cherry.
This is indeed a tough slate, but the team should be ready with a majority of players returning including four seniors one of whom, Kaitlyn Clunan, is coming off an ACL injury and looking to bring an impact to the offense. There is no reason why there should not be excitement surrounding this season considering their last game last year was a memorable one as they took #2 Lynchburg College to the brink in the ODAC Tournament. They look to build off that momentum.
“It’s a great feeling when you know you can play with a top team. The next step is knocking them off,” said Cherry.
The expectations are for excellence and junior midfielder Catherine Galway believes if everyone on the team stays on the same page they can achieve great things.
Galway said, “If we stay fully committed and show up to play every time we have the chance to be great. Not just in games either but in practice as well. I expect everyone to always give 110% and play for the team. Think about the girls standing next to you.”
The Women’s Volleyball team is coming off an historic season as they were able to reach a program record 24 win season. Of course with a new season teams are going to be gunning for the Marlins. With that said they return three of their All-ODAC Honorees for this season highlighted by junior Tiffany Barrett. Barrett received First Team All-ODAC Honors as a sophomore being one of the two to receive the award in 2014 as well as VWC’s first sophomore player to receive that honor since 2010. Also returning are seniors Kirstin Sessoms and Marin Crowder who also received All-ODAC Honors in 2014. One person that will be missed however is Alex Lambert who graduated last season. Barrett and Lambert served as the one-two punch for the team as they were one and two in kills respectively. It is going to be interesting seeing who will step up and replace that production. Being slotted #4 in the ODAC preseason poll is sure to give the team plenty of motivation heading into the season.
Men’s and Women’s Cross Country looks to improve upon their records from a year ago and prove that they belong at the top of the ODAC. The men’s team definitely looks to improve considering their returning a key contributor in junior Trevor Maloney. Maloney who posted the best time in the South/Southeast Regionals looks to build off that and help the men’s team get to where they want to go. With a lot of guys returning there is definitely a buzz of optimism in the air surrounding this team. The women’s team, slotted #5 in the preseason poll, has big shoes to fill this season as their first team talent Liz Wade was lost to graduation. With that said a slew of returning players return which include: Shakiella Daniel, Kyla Edwards-Henderson, and Tiana Hughes. Daniel comes in as the leader in both the 5k and 6k distances so her role is pivotal. All in all each cross country team come in with something to prove and with rosters laden with returning talent the season should be an interesting one for each.
The Field Hockey team, slotted #7 in the preseason poll, looks to their youth movement to invigorate their team and climb up the ranks in the ODAC. Sam Jackson is the lone senior returning and is also an All-ODAC Third Team member. She looks to lead a group that includes eight new faces as well as six returning members. After a rough season last year, there is only room for improvement and with the youth movement in full effect it should be a fun year for the Marlins as they look to establish themselves in the wide open ODAC.