LAURINBURG — St. Andrews soccer coach Stevan Hernandez is going into his 16th year with the program, and assistant Aaron Wood is set to begin his third year at the school. So when both say they have higher expectations for the men’s team heading into this season than they have for any other squad in recent memory, it’s sure to grab people’s attention.
“We’re not going to say we’re going to outright win the conference, but I believe we can do it,” Hernandez said. “I think this is the year to do it with the great amount of returners with experience, they’re dedicated and they’re great people. I love being around them.”
According to Hernandez, the Knights under performed much of last season as they finished with a 7-10-3 record. However they ended the year strong, advancing to the semifinals of the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament before falling short. St. Andrews only graduated one starter and one bench player from last season, and returns 29 players to a team that looks to carry that positive momentum into the coming year.
This year’s first-team and reserve team features 45 players from four states and 14 different countries. Players from as far away as Kenya, South Africa, Japan, and Brazil will come together to help St. Andrews achieve Hernandez’s goal of winning 10 games this year and a top-4 finish in the conference.
Freshmen make up the largest contingent of the team, as 15 first-years are spread out among the first-team and reserve group. Ten juniors and sophomores are the meat of the team, including junior Zimiso Stewart who led the team in goals last year as a sophomore. The roster is rounded out with nine seniors, who Hernandez and his staff will be looking at to take the reigns of the team through their leadership on and off the field.
“Senior Caio Liberatti will be one of the few we look for in that leadership role, whether that’s on or off the field, “Hernandez said. “Another one would be Brandon Standridge, a senior … and we look for big things from Zimi Stewart who was our leading goalscorer last year.”
If St. Andrews wants to achieve the lofty goals they have set for themselves, they will have to go through some of the AAC perennial powers. Hernandez cited Tennessee-Wesleyan College out of Athens, Tenn., Reinhardt University out of Waleska, Ga., and defending conference champion Bryan College out of Dayton, Tenn. as the teams to beat in the AAC.
Hernandez and Wood are particularly optimistic about this year’s team because of the effort and passion emitted on the pitch and in the classroom by the athletes.
“They’re truly addicted to the game and it’s easy to do things with guys who have that type of attitude every day,” Hernandez said. “It’s not hard to get them to train and commit to it and they have fun while they’re doing it … there’s never a dull day at work around here.”
Both say the players are pushing each other to get better every day in practice and they have a “contagious positivity” that has spread throughout the program.
“The passion that the athletes bring is contagious, it spreads throughout,” Wood said. “Success seems to breed more and more success with them. Not only as a staff, but as a team we’re as excited for this season as I’ve seen in three years.”
St. Andrews’ first exhibition game will be on Aug. 22 at The University of North Carolina atPembroke. The team will play three exhibition games before their regular season opener at Southern Wesleyan University on Sept. 4.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.