Darton State College sophomore Darwin Espinal led the Cavs with 23 goals last season and will pace the team’s offense against this season, which officially kicks off today with preseason training camp. (Herald file photo)
Darton soccer ranked eighth in preseason poll
The Darton State College men’s soccer team will enter the 2014 season with a No. 8 ranking, the NJCAA announced Wednesday in a preseason poll determined by votes from the NJCAA Men’s Soccer Coaches Association.
“It’s a great reflection of our program and the hard work and dedication of the athletes,” Darton coach Bart Sasnett said. “It’s always good to be recognized for our accomplishments as a program.”
Darton’s Region XVII rival Georgia Perimeter College ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll. Sasnett said the rankings have added fuel to the fire.
“We’re always highly motivated to play that team,” he said. “It’s going to be an even bigger event now that we’re both in the top 10.”
That matchup will take place in Dunwoody on Sept. 30, and again in Albany on Oct. 11.
Georgia Perimeter is one of several nationally ranked programs that Darton will face this season. The Cavs have scheduled matches with defending national champion and top-ranked Iowa Western, No. 5 Eastern Florida State and No. 10 Louisburg (N.C.).
Darton opens the season Aug. 27 at home against Georgia Military College.
ALBANY — The Darton State women’s soccer team has been close to several national titles since Ken Veilands started the program in 2000 but has yet to break through for an NJCAA championship.
Last year’s exit was one of the most brutal.
After a near-perfect regular season, the Lady Cavs were stunned in the national tournament by Butler Community College, which advanced to the semifinals with a golden goal in the sudden-death, mini-game playoff to break a three-way tie.
And it still stings.
“You look back at it, and there’s always things you think you could have done differently,” said Veilands, who has coached the Lady Cavs to six Region XVII championships and three national runner-up performances in 14 seasons. “But it is what it is, and you have to move on.”
The Lady Cavs are moving on today as they open preseason training camp along with the Darton men’s soccer team, which was ranked as high as fifth in the nation last season. Both Veilands and men’s coach Bart Sasnett were named region coaches of the year after a pair of remarkable 2013 seasons.
Veilands said his Lady Cavs are coming into camp with “chips on their shoulders.”
“From what I have seen, they seem to be excited and seem to have chips on their shoulders,” said Veilands, who became the all-time winningest junior-college coach in Georgia history last season. “But all of that comes to truth when you get on the field and start playing.”
The Lady Cavs return seven sophomores from a 2013 team that won a third consecutive conference championship and finished the year with a 20-1-2 record. A group of talented freshmen and transfers hope to make another run at a national championship title.
Leading the way for the Lady Cavs will be returning starting defenders Janay Campbell, a First Team All-America selection, and Kristy Gash.
“They both did a great job for us last year and will be key,” Veilands said. “They will be a big part of what we do and how we decide our formation.”
Offensively, forward Bri Lemerise is back after scoring 16 goals in 2013. She will be joined by transfers Rayni Maybury of Bermuda and Lauren Ebbs of Ireland. Florida-native Kristy Vidler and local standout Michaela Satchell, a product of Sherwood Christian Academy, should have an immediate impact defensively. Incoming freshman Haylee Zoleman, a former Lee County Trojan, and Krista Moisio of Tampere, Finland, will compete for the goalkeeper position. Moisio is currently participating in the 2014 Women’s U-20 World Cup in Canada.
In the midfield, Veilands will look to sophomores Ashley Riles, Alexis Roland and Eleana Colvin to be key contributors. A pair of freshmen from Florida could run the main operations, however, as Ft. Walton Beach native Maggie VanHusan and Navarre’s Daniella Burkhart may both take the field as central midfielders this fall. Both bring size and strength to the middle, Veilands said.
On the men’s side, the Cavs return after a 2013 season when they won the regular season Region XVII championship before falling to Eastern Florida State in the semifinals of the region tournament. The Cavs, who ended the year 13-3-1, were ranked fifth in the nation at the time of the loss.
The 2014 edition of the Cavs should be even stronger, Sasnett said.
“Traditionally, Darton is known for speed and technique,” said Sasnett, who won his 100th game as the Cavs’ head coach last season. “This year we will be bigger, faster and stronger than years past.”
The Cavs will be anchored by striker Darwin Espinal, who scored 23 goals as a freshman and was the co-Region XVII Player of the Year and an All-American.
“Darwin comes to practice early and leaves late every day,” Sasnett said after last season. “You’ll find him training out back on the soccer field, on his own, at random times any day. He’s a machine, and (being named All-American) is a testament to his hard work and to his dedication to our team.”
Goalkeeper Adam Cahill also returns after a freshman season when he led the region with 109 saves. There will be fifteen new faces on the Cavs, who open the season Aug. 27 against Region XVII foe Georgia Military College in a doubleheader with the women.
— Herald sports editor John Millikan and the Darton State College sports information department contributed to this report