Giffard balances new players and high expectations

Sterling Giles
Contributing Writer

VCU men’s soccer coach Dave Gifford aims to move 8th ranked team further in their 2014-2015 season.

Under head coach Dave Giffard, VCU’s men’s soccer team has risen through the national ranks over the last four years, going 41-22 overall, making Giffard only the second men’s soccer coach to have four consecutive winning seasons during their tenure.

Last season, Giffard’s team finished 11-8-2 and 5-2-1 in conference play finishing third in the Atlantic-10. Last September, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll ranked VCU eighth in the nation, its highest ranking since finishing seventh in 2004. In the postseason, VCU punched its second consecutive ticket to the NCAA tournament and faced the U.S. Naval Academy in the first round at home in a losing effort against the Midshipmen.

Still, in less than five years as head coach, Giffard and his staff have emerged from being ranked 161 out of 264 teams in the nation to becoming a national powerhouse.

During this time, Giffard and his staff have also produced 23 all-conference and nine professional players.

Giffard said the success of the team was a work-in-progress and is a testament to how well he and his staff can recruit talent.

“It is a process for the rise of success,” Giffard said. “We have been able to identify and recruit well.”

Last year, Giffard’s recruiting class were put to the test just before the 2013 season when the team loss star players Romena Bowie and Mario Herrera Meraz to injury. This made Giffard change the team’s playing style from position-oriented to one of transition and pace.

“Developing players stepped up when the stars were injured,” Giffard said. “However, we weren’t able to control the game as much.”

Despite certain setbacks, the Ram’s impressive play last year elevated them into the upper echelon of teams in the nation which included a 1-0 victory over the 2013 defending NCAA champions, the University of Indiana Hoosiers.

Giffard’s team was also dealt a shocking blow last season from a scandal involving three freshman players. Donovan Thiago Arias, Bobby Joe Hopper and Finlay L. Wyatt received felony charges for filming a nude minor without consent. All three men received a 150 day jail sentence with 140 days suspended, thus only being required to serve ten days each. The former players allegedly performed the crime in November of last year and were arrested in February of this year. Giffard felt the situation was a major wake-up call for not only his team but for other student-athletes at VCU.

“[It] was a stern reminder of the reality of the world,” Giffard said. “Your individual decisions can cause problems for yourself and others.”

Looking ahead to this season, Giffard and his coaching staff have collected over 16 new recruits. The reason for the huge recruit class is to compensate for the talented senior class graduating in December. Among the class are three-star and four-star recruits, and former national and international team participants. Giffard expressed that he and the coaching staff were excited about the potential of the deep recruiting class.

For the second consecutive year, VCU has the most difficult out-of-conference schedule in the country. The Rams will be facing 10 teams from the 2013 NCAA Tournament, which includes five of the top eight national seeds.

Though Giffard believes the ultimate goal this season to the win the national championship, he still feels the team has its work cut out for them.

“Last year’s schedule was the toughest I have ever faced, and for me, the 2014 schedule is a half-step better. Our players and fans can expect that each year we will challenge ourselves against the best competition in college soccer.” Giffard said.

The men’s soccer team officially kick start their fifth year under Coach Giffard Aug. 29 against Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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