BUCKHANNON - West Virginia Wesleyan's men's soccer program boasts one of the richest traditions of any of the 200-plus programs in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
With five national championships and more than 20 league titles, there's a lot for the program to live up to this season.
Veteran head coach Gavin Donaldson returns with another solid team, as his Bobcats are second in the preseason poll. They only trail fellow powerhouse Charleston in the rankings.
Wesleyan is just two years removed from an NCAA Elite Eight appearance, and early reports indicate a repeat may be on the horizon. The men's soccer program once again is a contender for a November postseason run, and that shouldn't come as a surprise to fans as long as Donaldson's at the helm.
He's well regarded, both in his sport and at Wesleyan. Entering his 22nd season leading the program, the Vermont native has produced 11 league titles, and an overall record of 271-134-38 while at Wesleyan. His career coaching total stands at 313-178-44 over 27 seasons.
With seven returning players from last season's 10-6-3 squad, Donaldson said he looks for some offense to spearhead this team's success. Scoring only 28 goals during the 2011 season, Wesleyan utilized a stifling defense to post a winning record. With most of the seasoned teammates having played the back end of the field, the coach has another strong defense at his disposal.
"The core of returning players gives us match experience and playoff experience, as all of these players were part of the NCAA Elite Eight team of 2010," Donaldson said. "Matt Brown has been our top scorer for the past two years and should continue to provide goals for us. (Joe) Ferraracci and (RJ) Sho-Silva return after a year off for injury to step back into starting roles. Each are dynamic players that we missed last year."
Brown led the Bobcats with five goals and four assists last season. He is joined in the midfield this year by teammates Dan Smee and Ferraracci. Smee scored four goals in 2011. Silva returns as part of a very experienced back line that also includes Thomas Ingall, Sam Turner and Thomas Capstick.
Several newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact for Donaldson. The coach says he hopes to not only get a boost offensively, but also to add to the strength of the defense.
"Freshmen Alexandre Zidani and Jordan Halpern will add to our attacking strength, while Tyler Marshall could start in the back or at least provide depth," Donaldson said. "Transfer Kuda Chijeche will be looked at to provide more midfield depth and will see substantial playing time."
Wesleyan will open its season at 7 p.m. Friday at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. Despite going into the match as a top contender, Donaldson said he knows challenges are ahead of the team.
"While picked second in the preseason poll, the WVIAC will again be UC's to lose with D & E, Wheeling and ourselves looking to hopefully unseat them," Donaldson said. "The conference is deep this year and may provide many upsets during the year."