Strong Start: Men’s soccer keeping up with nationally ranked teams as season begins

Freshman midfielder David Hughes traps the ball in an exhibition versus Akron on Aug.20. Photo by Megan Lee

Arrick Wilson, Contributing Writer

Last season, the VCU men’s soccer program struggled for success with a record of four wins, three losses, and three ties. Now, the Rams have been stepping up to the challenge of playing against some of the top-ranked teams in the nation.

“I think past success doesn’t determine current or future success,” said head coach Dave Giffard. “We have good players — if we stay healthy and continue to improve, those good players will likely produce good performances. There’s no guarantee in results. So we can play well and lose, we can play badly and win.” 

The VCU men’s soccer team defeated the formerly No. 7 Wake Forest on Aug. 26 and tied with No. 4 North Carolina on Aug. 29. 

Giffard said that he attributes the senior athletes as being the biggest keys to success for the team as a whole. The Rams currently have eight seniors leading the team. 

“So I would imagine if that group stays healthy, they’ll have more good performances than not,” Giffard said. “I would imagine that they would have some success as the year continues on. The better they do, the better we do, quite frankly.” 

Men’s soccer head coach Dave Giffard speaks to his sideline during an exhibition match against the University of Akron. Photo by Megan Lee

During the 2-0 match up against the Wake Forest Deacons, the black and gold were led by goals scored by freshman midfielder William Hitchcock and senior midfielder Simon Fitch. Senior goalkeeper Mario Sequeira also made five saves to help win the game. 

“It was awesome to just contribute to the team’s success in any way I could,” said Fitch about scoring the third goal of his career. “Obviously, being a defender, most of the time that occurs for me on the other end of the field, but it felt great to punch one in.”

The Rams continued their start by tying with North Carolina 1-1. Sequeira had a highlight game against the Tar Heels, making a career-high 13 saves. 

“It was a really proud moment for myself, I think,” Sequeira said. “You don’t really understand the value of those things until the game is over.”

Freshman midfielder Damian Gallegos also scored his first collegiate goal, an essential point to the tie against the top 10 opponent. Gallegos has earned three points and an assist in the first three matches of his college career; the freshman was also named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week for Aug. 26-29.

“Now, people are doing better, happier, healthier — mentally and physically,” Giffard said.

Senior defender Zeron Sewell was named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Week for Aug. 26-29. Sewell was also named Player of the Week for Aug. 31 by TopDrawerSoccer.com.

The Morant Bay, Jamaica, native has started in all three games this season. 

“You’ve seen it with Zeron [Sewell] this week, he won a couple of accolades nationwide, he’s a beast,” Sequeira said.

On Saturday, the Rams lost 1-0 to No. 13 Florida International; junior defender David Garcia scored a corner kick in the 73rd minute. Sequeira made 10 saves for the Rams that night.

Up until the loss to FIU, the men’s soccer program was ranked No. 12 on the NCAA Division I United Soccer Coaches poll. The Rams are now unranked, but are leading the points among unranked teams with 76.

However, Giffard said he hopes that the team’s strong start may be enough to continue the momentum forward the rest of the season, as the Rams will have to face two more ranked teams. Men’s soccer will match up with No. 23 St. Louis and No. 9 Indiana on Oct. 9 and 27, respectively. 

“The reality is, we have a lot of good players, and now the majority of those players are in a better place and playing better,” Giffard said. “Therefore, we are going to have more success.” 

The Rams will play Charlotte on the road on Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on CUSA.TV.

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