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Expectations sky high for Darton men, who open season tonight

Darton sophomore Andrew Palumbo scored nine goals last season and — along with fellow forward Jowayne Laidley — will be the Cavs’ main scoring threat this season.

Darton sophomore Andrew Palumbo scored nine goals last season and — along with fellow forward Jowayne Laidley — will be the Cavs’ main scoring threat this season.

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Darton sophomore Jowayne Laidley scored 12 goals last season and will be a key part of the Cavs' offense this year.

ALBANY — The Darton State College men’s soccer team will find out what its made of pretty quickly this season.

And that’s just the way coach Bart Sasnett wants it to be.

“A lot of people think I was crazy for setting the schedule up the way I did,” said Sasnett, whose No. 3 nationally ranked Cavs open the season at No. 21 San Jacinto College (Texas) tonight and then play at No. 4 Tyler (Texas) on Saturday. “But we are only going to be as good as our out-of-conference opponents. It’s only going to make us stronger.”

The Cavs are looking pretty strong already.

They return nine players with starting experience from last year’s team, which lost to Monroe College (N.Y.) in the national semifinals and played Tyler to a 1-1 tie in the third-place game.

Sure, Darton lost some leaders — like national Player of the Year Diego Ramos, who is now playing pro soccer in Honduras, and star midfielders Guilherme Frota and Javier Anor — but the Cavs think they have enough pieces left to make another run at a national title.

“It’s a new adventure,” said forward Jowayne Laidley, who was second on the team in scoring behind Ramos last season with 12 goals. “We’re on a mission to win that national title.”

Laidley continued: “Last year, we had talent from all over the world, and it was a unique group that came together. This year, we are trying to do something new but in the same pattern as last year. I think we can do it, but it will take hard work and focus.”

It will also take some talent, which the Cavs have plenty of, starting with Laidley and forward Andrew Palumbo.

“If they shut one down, then the other will be open,” Sasnett said about his two biggest scoring threats. “It’s going to be really difficult to shut both of them down on any given night.”

Laidley and Palumbo aren’t alone, either. Other key returners are Patrick Dacosta, Soren Yuhaschek, Jaylon Bather, Carlos Catano, Dennis Boateng and Troy Tucker. Along with Ramos, Tucker was named First Team All-America last year, while Catano was First Team All-Region and Laidley and Dacosta were Second Team All-Region.

“We need that one individual to take the game in their hands and win the game for us,” Tucker said. “Last year it was Diego, but Jowayne and Palumbo are capable of winning games.”

Laidley already has a game winner to his credit this season when he scored the only goal in a preseason game against Division I Georgia Southern.

“They were bigger and stronger than us,” said Laidley, who scored his goal in the 27th minute, “and we went in as the underdogs.”

They came out with plenty of momentum to take into this weekend’s season-opening road trip to Texas.

“My goal is to make it to the national tournament,” Sasnett said. “It’s going to be a little more difficult than last year. Last year’s team had more depth than we do this year. But I feel confident with the 3-4 guys we are going to pull off the bench to help us. I think they will do a good job.”

If the Cavs win the region and make it to nationals for the third year in a row, they won’t need to travel for the national tournament, which is being held at Darton for the first time.

“I was ecstatic when I found out we were hosting nationals,” Palumbo said. “We are just going to work hard and take it game by game and hopefully it works out in the end.”