After the Longwood men’s soccer squad took down the Bison from Howard University in their first match of the season, the confidence of having started their season on a high was reflected on the pitch.
Veteran head coach John Atkinson said, “I think every coach in America is probably sort of happy that they wake up the next day and feel a little bit better after getting a victory.”
The Lancers came out in the new season showing off their 4-3-3 formation, consisting of four defenders, three midfielders and three attacking players - a system seeking to be a driving force for the team over the course of the season.
“We’ve got a stronger team this year for sure,” said Atkinson. “I think there is deeper squad ability to help and in the first game our team came out with a good appetite and knew their roles pretty well.”
With the new formation in place and increased depth, the team will look to improve on a back line which surrendered a league-worst 48 goals last season. However, with Sunday’s score line, the squad has already earned a third of the amount of shutouts from last year with their 3-0 win.
“I wouldn’t say the old adage of, ‘defense wins’ games’, but it certainly will not lose you many games if you defend well,” said Atkinson. “Last year we were quite porous in the goals from a lot of instability, and I think we are starting to learn from some of those examples and some of the opportunities that we saw last year.”
He added, “It keeps us in striking range of teams."
The Lancers remained in within striking range of ACC powerhouse NC State in their second match, but ended up falling short 1-0.
Sophomore defender Jonas Kalchner earned Big South Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts in the Howard game, and while the recognition is an accomplishment and is something to show praise for, Atkinson knows the season is still young and there are many tough tests coming down the line for the team as a whole.
On the other side of the formation, the Lancers return a three-headed monster in redshirt senior Willy Miezan, senior Mikel Abando and sophomore Markus Gronli, who accounted for nearly 60 percent of the teams’ goals from a year ago.
Abando has already halved his goal total from a year ago, as he was able to find the back of the net twice in the opening victory. While Miezan was unable to score in the opening contest, he feels the early season performance will only serve as a building block moving forward.
"If we can work on that, you know, and develop that even more, we will be a challenge for any team really, whether in the conference or out of the conference,” said Miezan.
Now entering his fifth and final season in a Lancer kit after suffering two devastating ACL tears over the course of his career, Miezan said he is slowly getting back into full game shape.
He said it is a challenge to regain game fitness in the beginning of the season, because nothing truly compares to playing the game. The Lancers have 17 games on the regular season docket this season, including a trip to ACC rival Virginia Tech.
At this point in the new campaign, it isn’t possible to tell how this season will pan out for the Lancers. Despite this, Atkinson said he does have expectations for where he wants the team to be around time for the Big South Tournament.
“You can ask me in about another month’s time where we see how these guys develop, but there is a lot of potential, but we certainly have to realize that potential,” said Atkinson.