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The ODU Soccer Monarchs open the 2013 season this weekend in Richmond, VA at the VCU tournament against High Point on Friday afternoon at 4:30 and then play VCU on Sunday night at 7 p.m., both games at the Sports Backers Stadium. This year, the Monarchs embark on a new horizon with Conference USA, one of the nation’s traditionally strong conferences in men’s soccer. Six Monarch opponents are in the coach’s preseason top 25.
“I think the preseason and the three exhibition games has been beneficial for us and answered a lot of questions. There’s a lot of competition for spots,” said ODU head coach Alan Dawson who is beginning his 17th season. The schedule overall, is just phenomenal, and you have to look at it like that. You got to be excited about it and accept the challenges of C-USA and our non-conference slate.”
ODU returns seven starters from last year’s 11-3-3 squad that ranked as high as fourth nationally and advanced to the schools third straight NCAA tournament and ninth overall in the last 11 years under Dawson. Key returnees include: Gideon Asante (Sr, MF, 3-time All-Conference); Tim Hopkinson (Sr, F, All-Region & 2-time All-Conference); Jason Gaylord (Sr, D); Ryan Condotta (So, MF, 2012 All-Rookie Team); Ryan Oakes (Sr, D); Skylar Hagan (Jr, D); and Ivan Militar (Jr, F). The Monarchs will also have nine new faces.
In the goal, the Monarchs graduated two-time All-League keeper Victor Francoz. This year, three will be battling for that spot in senior Sean Stowe, sophomore Connor Miller and freshman Matthew Sanchez.
“All three keepers have had an opportunity to play and it’s a very close race. No one has separated themselves. It’s going to be a game day decision on who starts. I think all three keepers have been very good. Stowe has a bit of an edge as he has been here for four years, Matt is very accomplished, composed and athletic for a freshman, but he is a freshman, and Connor has taken a big step from his freshman year to his sophomore year,” said Dawson.
The Monarch back line returns three in co-captain Jason Gaylord, junior Skylar Hagan and senior Ryan Oakes.
“We have three of the four back, which helps and adding Michael Nelson, who transferred from
N.C. State has been terrific. Michael brings athleticism, toughness, good presence, and he is good with the ball at his feet,” said Dawson. He along with co-captain Jason Gaylord make a good center-back duo. We also have the two fullbacks in Ryan Oakes on the right side and leftback Skylar Hagan who are very solid, and both are very good coming forward.”
In addition, the Monarchs will be counting on freshmen Nick Hutchinson, Christian Wirth and sophomore Alex Heilmann. “We think Hutchinson can make an immediate impact for us while Wirth can play anywhere in the back and Heilmann has improved a lot. We feel really good about the back four and we have a lot of options. This is probably our deepest area,” said Dawson.
In the attack positions, ODU returns senior co-captain and two-time All-Conference and preseason All C-USA forward Tim Hopkinson, junior Ivan Militar and three-time All-Conference Gideon Asante, who is on the MAC Hermann Award watch list.
“Tim has been working hard all summer. He is very fit, very sharp and we are expecting a big senior year from him,” said Dawson. “Ivan is playing his best right now. We have him in a good position where he feels comfortable and right now he looks dangerous. Gideon is not quite healthy and fit as we want him to be, but his attitude is great and he is working toward that. We are hoping to get him on the pitch as much as we can. He should have a big senior year. Sophomore Geoffrey Hill has made a big step from his freshman year, has started in the exhibition games, and is making things happen. Freshman Jesse Miralrio is the real deal, and has won a starting spot. He’s a good player with a lot of athleticism and determination, and can be very dangerous. junior Sydney Rivera is also in the mix as an option at the center forward spot. Expect him to play a lot as well.”
After the opening weekend, the Soccer Monarchs return home for their regular season home opener against the Tribe of William and Mary on Sept. 7. The 38th annual Stihl Soccer Classic is Sept. 13 and 15 with Creighton, Central Florida, and William and Mary.
ODU received honorable mention votes in the NSCAA Coaches top 25 and has been picked to finish fourth in C-USA. ODU will have six regular season opponents on its schedule in the preseason poll, including 2012 national semifinalists Creighton, and Maryland. ODU will play sixth ranked Creighton, who reached the NCAA semifinals for the second straight year in the Stihl Soccer Classic on Sept. 13 and travel to second ranked Maryland, who also was in the national semifinals last season, on Sept. 24.
In C-USA battles, the Monarchs will also host 11th ranked New Mexico on Nov. 2 and travel to 14th ranked Tulsa on Sept. 28, 21st ranked Charlotte on Oct. 9 along with a non-conference match-up against 24th ranked VCU on Sept. 1. The Monarchs C-USA home opener is Oct. 4 against Kentucky who is an associate member.
“If this is not one of the top five schedules in the country, I’d be shocked,” said Dawson. “From an RPI standpoint it’s a fantastic schedule. We are going to have some adversity along the way and we are going to have to deal with it. It’s a schedule that if you can win the games that you are supposed to and win a few of the big games, then you are going to be in good shape and one of the top RPI teams in the nation. Basically, if we can take care of our business, it will definitely prepare us for the NCAA Tournament.”
Dawson cautions –“ We have to take it one game at a time, and for us the biggest one right now is game number one against High Point. They are a very good team, a very athletic squad, playing on a neutral field. It will be a very good test for us. ”