HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Despite a history-making season in 2011, Coker College men's soccer coach Paul Leese might be a little more excited about 2012. And for good reason.
The Conference Carolinas Coach of the Year has all of his players from the conference championship squad of a year ago. He also has, for the first time in his Coker tenure, a class of seniors whom he recruited.
"Finally, we have a group of seniors that have been with us since freshman year," said Leese, who enters his fourth year at Coker. "We've had three years of building and believe that the program is taking shape as we envisioned it would."
The coach returns a team that went 18-3 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. The Cobras were ranked as high as No. 5 nationally in Division II and played host to the opening round of the regional tournament. Coker comes into 2012 ranked No. 18 in the NSCAA preseason poll and No. 1 in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll.
Coker's success on the field led to a laundry list of accolades off the field in 2011.
Six players received all-conference honors: Carlos Recinos, Rommel Fondin, James Sweeney, Atticus Lum and Fernando Bedoya were named to the first team; Stephen Scrivens was a second-team nod. Also, Sweeney won scholar-athlete of the year and Recinos was player of the year for the conference.
In addition, Recinos, Bedoya and Sweeney were named to the Daktronics All-Southeast Region first team. Recinos, Bedoya, Sweeney, along with Fondin and Lum, were named to the NSCAA All-Southeast Region first team
With all the talent back for another run, the players are even hungrier heading into this season.
"We don't want to get in over our heads," said senior Noah Lascell. "After last year, every team is going to come at us. We have to keep it calm and take it one game at a time. They will be gunning for us."
The biggest challenge for this team, according to Leese, is to take care of business on the field and put last season in the past.
"We need to continue to remember that we have not reached our goals," the coach said. "It was great last year, but we haven't played a single game yet this season. We can't think that last year's accolades are worth anything for this year."
With everyone back in the fold, Leese can be at ease knowing that he has a strong set of leaders as well as a team with great chemistry, on and off the field.
"The best part of this team is that we get along and we like each other," said Sweeney. "We work well together and share the same goals."
One thing is certain – this team is ready. The seniors want to leave on a high note, and the team would love nothing more than to go deep into the national tournament and leave their mark on the conference with another championship.
"We made it to the second round of regionals last year, but as successful as we were, it wasn't enough," said Lascell. "We're training very hard and have the same mentality. But we want more, and we'll fight to reach our goals."
The Cobras open up the season Aug. 31 at Florida Southern.