FLORENCE, S.C. – Entering the 2004 season, the Francis Marion University men’s soccer team hopes to continue its roller-coaster ride in the Peach Belt Conference for at least one more year.
The Patriots captured the 2000 PBC crown, placed last in 2001, finished first in 2002, and placed sixth last year. Eleven lettermen, including nine starters, return with thoughts of climbing back up the rungs to the top of the conference.
Francis Marion begins its 2004 schedule this weekend when the Patriots play in the Lees-McRae College Soccer Classic in Banner Elk, N.C. FMU will play Cumberland College on Friday at 5 p.m. and the host school at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“The key to our success in 2004 will be to what extent each player understands his role in our system, and then uses his talent to that end,” said 11th-year head coach Murray Hartzler. Hartzler will be aiming for his 200th career coaching win when the Patriots play Cumberland on Friday. In 20 seasons, he has amassed a 199-134-31 mark, and is the winningest coach in FMU history.
“Injuries have hampered us in the preseason and staying healthy is always an issue,” said Hartzler. “Last season we had only one match when the entire roster was healthy and available to play. This year’s squad is more athletically and technically talented than last year’s 9-10-0 squad. We are also deeper this year, but three or four of the newcomers must step in and contribute right away. How fast those new players adjust is always a variable.”
FMU opened last season by winning seven of its opening 10 matches, but then faltered and dropped seven of the final nine contests.
Junior goalkeeper Jonathan Runion returns after starting the last two seasons. In 2003, he posted a 1.81 goals against average, including two shutouts. He is joined by freshman Robbie Curry (Manassas, Va.), who is one of the walking wounded. “Robbie has provided competition for Jonathan, and that has pushed Jonathan’s performance to a higher level,” Hartzler added. “I feel secure that we are entering the season with two solid keepers.”
At the forward positions, Hartzler will look for scoring from senior Peter Nsubuga, last year’s second-leading scorer with nine goals and six assists; freshman Jeanpaul Coves (Silver Spring, Md.); and junior Valentine Baker, a transfer from St. Andrews Presbyterian College where he tallied three goals and eight assists in 2003. “All three have strong bodies that they can employ offensively. As the season progresses, I hope this will be one of our strengths.”
In the midfield, two key players return: junior Larin Wilski and sophomore Nick Boyd. Redshirt freshmen Troy Sink (Findlay, Ohio) and Jonathan Bartomioli (Bartlett, Ill.) will see minutes at the midfield positions, in addition to junior Brendan Chick. “Brendan has been fighting a chronic injury, but he understands his role in the midfield, and is a positive contributor,” Hartzler said. Another freshman, left-footed Luca Forno (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), has also been hampered by an injury in the preseason, but Hartzler sees his speed as a nice addition.
Senior Henry Theiling, who has career totals of 12 goals and 10 assists, junior Anthony Addorisio, and freshman Shondell Busby (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) will see action both in the midfield and up front at the forward spots.
Junior Mike Greenaway, an All-Region selection in 2003, returns to anchor the defensive backfield. However, a preseason injury will force him to miss the opening few matches. Senior Charlie Mitchell moves from the midfield to a back position for 2004 and will provide more stability, especially in the absence of Greenaway. Two-year starter Andy Conrad and junior Chris Harmon also return, while the defense has added freshmen Biagio Galle (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and Matthew Gourie (Midland, Ga.). Despite losing seven of the final nine matches in 2003, FMU allowed only 19 scores during that span.
Looking at the 2004 slate, Hartzler commented, “We are playing a tough non-conference schedule and the Peach Belt race should be wide open. There are several talented squads in the PBC, but preseason picks are very hard to determine.”
FMU allowed only 33 goals in 2003, while the Patriot offense accounted for 30 scores. However, Francis Marion managed only 10 tallies in the final nine matches. The Patriots led opponents in corner kicks 125-119 and recorded a team 1.70 goals against average and a .730 save percentage.
The 2004 Patriot schedule lists 19 matches, including eight home matches.