BANNER ELK, N.C. -- The number two nationally ranked Lees-McRae College Bobcats men's soccer team knows they have a target on their back in 2010 after falling in last season's NCAA National Championship Match 1-0.
The Bobcats begin the season ranked number two in the NCAA after a record setting 2009 season. The team went 18-3-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the Conference Carolinas. The team lost in the conference tournament semifinals, but hosted and won the 2009 Southeast Regional with wins over Wingate and Anderson. They then hosted and again won the their Elite Eight match against Tampa to advance to the NCAA Final Four. After a thrilling come-from-behind win over Lewis the team fell 1-0 to Fort Lewis in the NCAA Championship Match.
This year's squad features new faces in key places including head coach, assistant coach, forward, full back and keeper.
Head coach Matt Thompson traveled south in March from Slipper Rock University. Thompson took The Rock to three NCAA Tournaments, six winning seasons and an 84-67-11 overall record in eight seasons. Along with Thompson's new face on the bench, assistant coach Pat Cormac finds himself in a new position. Cormac came to Lees-McRae from Slippery Rock with Thompson after spending a year as a graduate assistant at The Rock in 2009.
"We have high expectations, but like we have said before, I know we have a target on our backs," Thompson said. "The boys know it will be tougher this year and teams will maybe play a different way against us, but we look forward to the challenge. It is exciting for me to see the new teams and new styles of play. I also look forward to meeting the new conference coaches."
Despite the turnover at the top and a few key positions, the Bobcats do return seven of their 11 starters and three other key contributors from the 2009 season.
The team returns two-time All-American Lee Squires at the forward position. Squires earned All-American Honors in 2007 and 2008. He was also All-Southeast Region and All-Conference Carolinas in both season and earned Conference Carolinas MVP in 2008. In both seasons, he finished in the top in the NCAA final statistical rankings in both points per game and goals per game. Squires played in only nine games last season and scored four goals due to preseason injury. However he did earn Southeast Region Offensive MVP in the NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament.
The Bobcats return all four midfielders from 2009. Wingers David Palmer and Luke Perry scored eight goals and five goals respectively last season. Palmer was named Second Team All-Conference and Second Team All-Southeast Region, while Perry took home Third Team All-Conference and Conference Carolinas Freshman of the year. Center midfielders Sam Kennedy and Jamie Bladen return as the centerpieces for the Bobcats. Kennedy anchored the middle of the field last season, and Bladen, who earned Third Team All-Conference Carolinas, scored eight goals and had six assists in 2009.
On the back-line, Thompson has veterans Luke Duffy and Luke Staats returning. Duffy earned First Team All-Conference Carolinas, First Team All-Southeast Region and Third Team All-American honors a season ago.
The Bobcats will have returning contributors Jarret Fleharty, Logan Linton and Reiko Trott, who are all three ready to step into the starting roles in 2010. Fleharty will see time in the midfield and at defense. Linton and Trott, both who will return from injury in 2010, will see minutes as defenders, as well. Tyler Gibson returns for the Bobcats from 2010 and will compete for minutes in goal.
Thompson brought in nine freshman and three transfers to add into the mix for 2010. Transfers Kyle Luterbach and Sebastian Matta, both forwards, came to Lees-McRae from Saint Leo.
The Bobcats incoming freshman include goalkeepers Clayton Adams and Thomas Rusling, defenders Addison Day, Scott Hudgins and Michael O'Brien, midfielder Justin Jones and forward James Galvani, Christopher DeSanto and Blake Pitz.
The 2010 Bobcats will take the pitch on September 3rd against Flagler at Tate Field for their season opener.