FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion men’s soccer team will look to get its 2011 season off on the right foot Thursday afternoon (Sept. 1) when it welcomes Eckerd College for both teams’ season opener. The match will start at 4 p.m. on the FMU Soccer Field and admission is free.
Fifth-year head coach Kevin Varnado returns 10 lettermen, including five starters, from last season’s 7-10-1 roster, to go along with eight newcomers – seven being freshmen.
Eckerd College returns 15 players from last year’s 7-8-0 team. FMU holds a 3-1-0 advantage in the all-time series with the Tritons, but this is the first time the two have met since 2003.
With a favorable home schedule, the Patriots hope they won’t have to look far to find their comfort zone early this season. Ten of Francis Marion’s 17 matches this season are slated to be played at home, something Varnado believes will benefit the team. “There’s obviously a comfort level of getting to play at home. I don’t think there’s going to be any added pressure while playing those matches. It’s also a good thing to have those first year players and freshmen playing at a place they’re accustomed to.”
One area of the game the Patriots will have added pressure is replacing four-year starter Clark Richeson in goal. Hoping to fill that void will be junior Will Barnette, who was on the 2010 roster but did not see any playing time last season, and two newcomers, including freshman Nick Lucido (Lakeland, Fla.). Richeson led the Peach Belt Conference in saves during the 2010 campaign.
“You’re not going to be able to replace a four-year starter right away. With the two young men we brought in, along with Will, we hope to fill that void kind of by a committee. Also with a stronger backline and defense we feel we won’t have to rely on the goalkeeper as much as we have in the past.”
The backline that Varnado has high hopes for includes freshmen Thiago Gaglianone (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Leonardo Chaves (Bogota, Colombia) and Ashley Crawford (Te Puke, New Zealand). Both Gaglianone and Chaves come from Montverde Academy in Florida, one of the top soccer programs in the nation.
They join a core of returnees in Shane McConlogue (2 goals, 3 assists) and seniors Adrian Williams and Cameron Mabee. Varnado feels this is where much of the team leadership will come from. “Adrian has taken responsibility along with Cameron to make sure things remained competitive throughout the preseason training and has set the bar pretty high for this team.”
Vying for midfield positions will be five returnees: redshirt freshmen Carson Nance, sophomores Jeran Nanthakumar and Stefan Gojic, and juniors Travis Bally and Chuy Cruz. Newcomers to this area of the field include Reed Hennigan (Greenville, S.C.) and George Kartsimaris (Terre Haute, Ind.), a three-time All-Conference selection who had 18 goals and 25 assists as a senior in high school.
Rounding out the 2011 squad looks up front at returning leading scorer and Peach Belt All-Conference selection sophomore Alex Blandin who finished the 2010 campaign with five goals. Alongside him will be senior Adam Dillihay and sophomore Justin Walton, who found the back of the net three times last season.
Following Thursday’s match, Francis Marion will play host to Wingate University, Saturday at 4 p.m.
This will be the final season for the Patriots at FMU Soccer Field, as they will make the move to the new Hartzler Field which will be ready for the 2012 season. Entering its 35th season, the Patriot program owns an all-time mark of 269-289-43.