Darton's Darwin Espinal, a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be one of the Cavs' main scoring threats this season as they look to keep their nearly two-year winning streak in the regular season alive. (John Millikan)
ALBANY — Darton men’s soccer coach Bart Sasnett needed to rebuild his team after last year’s devastating national semifinal loss to Tyler Junior College, and he knew exactly where he needed to go.
Straight down Interstate 75.
Faced with replacing 10 sophomores from last season’s team, Sasnett spent one long day after another this summer driving to South Florida and pitching Darton State College to some of the top recruits in the country.
And it wasn’t hard for Sasnett to sell the Cavalier program.
“Everybody goes to South Florida to recruit now, so you are recruiting against everybody,” Sasnett said. “We were able to beat out some other two-year schools that they were looking at because we had such a successful reputation.”
Sasnett picked up prized recruits Darwin Espinal, John Labrador (College of the Southwest, N.M.), Enrique Bello (Seattle University), Alejandro Martignon (IUPUI), Theodore Brown (South Georgia College) and Da’vid Lazarof (Barton Community College, Kan.) during the offseason, and most of them came from Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or somewhere in between.
“When we lost that game (in last season’s national semifinals) I knew we had to recruit and rebuild,” said Sasnett, who would rent a small economy car and head for soccer fields and high schools scattered around South Florida. “I spent three months on the road. I went to Fort Lauderdale five times in one month. I just kept going and going.
“I was on the road more this year since coming to Darton, and I think we got a good base of solid players and a couple of guys who really stand out. We have more depth this year. The harder you recruit, the more good players you can have on the bench.”
Darton enters today’s season opener in Dunwoody against Monroe (N.Y.) Community College ranked No. 3 in the nation, while Monroe is ranked fourth after finished tied for third in the nation with the Cavs last season.
It’s a matchup that could end up being Darton’s toughest of the season, and it comes early for a Cavs team full of transfers and freshmen that are still trying to find chemistry together on the field.
“Let’s hit the ground running,” Sasnett said when asked if he was concerned about such a tough test early in the season. “We are either going to find out what we need to work on or we will find out how good we are.”
There’s not much doubt in the mind of returning star forward Alejandro Garcia about how good his Cavs can be.
“We are a dynasty right now with three region championships in a row,” Garcia said. “We have to be able to get another one and go to the national tournament.”
Sasnett didn’t back away from the “dynasty” tag and said this year’s team has the capability to be as good as last year’s group, which went undefeated in the regular season and rose to No. 1 in the national NJCAA poll.
“We have the components to be back ranked at No. 1,” he said. “I don’t know that we will go undefeated again, but we have the components to be there.”
Darton has won 27 straight regular-season games and hasn’t dropped a contest in the regular season since a 3-2 loss to powerhouse Louisburg College on Sept. 4, 2011. The past two years, the Cavs have a ridiculous record of 38-3-1 and haven’t had a losing season since Sasnett took over the program in 2004.
“We are expected to compete every year,” Sasnett said. “We are a national power, and I expect nothing less of this program and this team.”
Darton lost its top scorers last season in Jowayne Laidley and Andrew Palumbo, who each had 11 goals, while star midfielder Troy Tucker (6 goals, 11 assists) also graduated.
The most experienced returners for the Cavs are Garcia (10 goals, 11 assists), midfielder Jorge Chirinos (7 goals, 8 assists) and midfielder Allan Kuhne. Most of the team is just starting to grasp the tradition that comes along with slipping on a Cavs uniform.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Espinal, who arrived on campus two weeks ago and will be one of the team’s biggest scoring threats. “They expect a lot out of us.”
And this year, more than ever, they expect a national championship ring.
“I think about (losing in the national semifinals) here and there, but it just makes me want to play harder,” Garcia said. “It makes me want it more. It makes me want a ring.”
NOTES: Former Lee County soccer coach Ken Kirsch joins Darton as an assistant coach, giving the Cavs their first addition to their coaching staff in the 14-year history of the program. Kirsch was the head coach at South Georgia College last season but left Douglas after the program was disbanded. “What attracted me to Darton was an opportunity to win a national championship, and I feel the way it’s set up here that we are really close,” he said. … The Cavs’ home opener is Saturday against in-state rival Georgia Perimeter, which was the closest team to beat Darton in the regular season last year. The Cavs beat GPC in overtime, 3-2, on Sept. 1. … Diego Ramos, a star at Darton from 2010-11, signed a pro contract this summer with C.D. Victoria, a premier soccer club in Honduras that is currently competing in the CONCACAF Cup.