An ACC Tournament win, a national seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. The Virginia Tech Men’s Soccer team achieved many goals during the 2018 season, but was unable to finish their season the way it wanted to. The team fell to James Madison 3-0 in the Sweet Sixteen, just two wins away from the College Cup.
“Overall, I’m extremely pleased [with our season]. We did some things that were unbelievable for our program,” Head Coach Mike Brizendine said. “But the reality is unless we are holding up a trophy I’m disappointed, and that didn’t happen.
After last season, the program lost many key players and was forced to move some new faces into the mix. However, the loss of talent didn’t affect the product on the field. This less experienced team was able to advance further in the tournament than last year’s group did because of the chemistry built between the players and coaches.
“We have awesome kids on our team, and our team unity and togetherness have been the recipe to our success,” Brizendine said. “If you have awesome kids that are all in the same boat, they want to win and will work for each other and will make good choices off of the soccer field, that’s what brings you to that point.”
The program will be able to bring back almost all of their key players heading into next season. Of the eleven players who received the most minutes this season, only one will not be returning next year, midfielder Rory Slevin. His impact may be tough to replace considering he led the team in minutes outside of goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld. However, the team will have the majority of their core group back to make a run next year.
“Losing Rory is not easy, but looking to the future, we’re very excited,” Brizendine said. “We return everybody, so people know what it’s like. We have guys who are used to winning at a high level, so I think we can bring it along.”
Bringing a majority of players back after a Sweet Sixteen run looks good on paper, but many things can derail those hopes. Teams that look like they should make a run towards a championship don’t always succeed in achieving that goal. The team will look to stay sharp during the offseason.
“There are three things that will kill us. One, complacency, thinking we can show up and win games, but that’s just not the case,” Brizendine said. “Two, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we can’t have kids not doing well in school or getting into trouble. Third, injury prevention, many teams that are stacked coming into this fall didn’t have success because of injuries. Those are the three things we’re going to have to battle against throughout the spring.”
The best way to prepare for these possible injuries is to bring in more depth, and that is exactly what the team did. Five incoming freshmen will be joining the team next year and can add even more to an already solid, experienced team.
“Every one of those kids could get minutes for us next year, some maybe a lot,” Brizendine said. “It’s going to be hypercompetitive, which is what you need to be successful. Having more depth has been something that continues to help us.”
This program continues to improve, as this season was the third straight year the team advanced to the NCAA Tournament. If the team is selected next year, it would be the first time in program history that the Hokies went to four straight NCAA Tournaments. It is a long way away, but the team looks up to the task heading into the offseason.
“I am excited about the future, but we need to push to get to the next stage,” Brizendine said. “We’ve shown we can get to the tournament, the question is can we be disciplined enough to make the next jump, which is a huge jump.”