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Young Choctaws Look to Build off of Improved Chemistry
Men's Soccer returns key leaders and brings in young talent as they try to improve on last season
Last season, Choctaw soccer finished 10-6-1, coming up short in the GSC quarterfinal to Lee 1-0. This finish slotted them at 5th overall in the final conference standings. This came despite them finishing 3rd in the conference in total goals, and allowing the least goals of any team in the GSC.
This season, the Choctaws return a few key leaders and are bringing in a lot of young talent as they try to improve upon that result. With 23 new players joining the team, the team is enjoying an infusion of new intensity, as well as improved chemistry.
“Last year we had a very talented team, position-per-position, but the one thing we lacked was chemistry,” said sophomore midfielder Santi Diosa. “There was a big age difference, we had some guys that were 25-26 and some of us were 19-18 and so there was this gap.”
While the team is getting younger they will still benefit from returning some of their standout performers from years past. Defender Grant Hudson is returning for his senior season and will serve as a captain and help anchor the defense. Forward Noah Wagner is also returning for his senior season after recording seven goals and two assists last year while starting in nine games. Wagner has high expectations going into the season as he was tabbed as a member of the preseason all-GSC team alongside defender Joshua Davies. Davis was one of the pillars of that great defense last year and scored three goals on the season as well.
Davies and some of his teammates kept their skills sharp over the summer by playing for FC Brilla. Based out of Clinton, Brilla is a member of USL2 and competes in the Midsouth Division of the Western Conference. USL2 is a semi-professional league and features 113 teams made up of college and professional players.
“It’s all the best college players from all the different levels,” said Davies. “The competition is a little stronger because you’ve whittled it down to the best players in college.
Both Davies and Aldama said that the high level of competition over the summer helped them to stay fresh and avoid developing bad habits and getting out of shape. Coach Johns also noted that it could be a good way for some players who had not played as much in the past to build confidence going into this season.
“It’s very easy, when we finish the season in the spring, and then you get into a summer of travel and vacations it's very easy to get out of shape, lose a little bit of your touch, lose confidence. And so staying in a summer full of intensity and training sessions like the ones we do here is very good for you mentally and physically… and you come back even better than last year, ready to play,” said Aldama.
They will need to come in ready to play this season, as the team did lose some major contributors from last season. Two of their top three goal scorers are departing, Filippo Bellu who scored ten, and Antoine Recizac who had four and added five assists. According to Aldama, the forwards and strikers are working to fill this hole by spending extra time just practicing shooting and their play around the goal.
They will also look to fill the hole left by their former goalie Alejandro Chavarria. Chavarria started all 17 games last season and gave up an average of 0.76 goals per game. With solid returners at the back position, the defense should be able to help a young goalie have success but no matter who ends up filling that spot will have big shoes to fill.
Despite these losses, head coach Kevin Johns is maintaining the standard that he has held his team to in past years.
“Our first simple goal is just to get back to the conference tournament…we want to try to finish in the top four… the big picture goal is probably at least make it to the finals of the conference tournament,” said Johns.
The road to the conference tournament will kick off soon for the Choctaws as they will open their season on Friday, August 26th in Vicksburg against Florida Southern before kicking off conference play at home vs. #8 Auburn Montgomery on September 9th.
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