Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier Asst. Sports Editor
Berry College’s men’s soccer team lost half of its members since the beginning of last season, but they consider the necessary rebuild an opportunity rather than a setback.
Last year’s roster for the team showed that, of the 28 players listed, 11 would be graduating at the end of the year. With three additional players leaving the team for separate reasons, half of last year’s members are gone. As a result, the upcoming season could be written off as a transition year, but head coach Richard Vardy refuses to use player turnover as an excuse to lower expectations.
“Even with a new team, our target is always to win the conference and the conference tournament,” Vardy said. “We came close last year, but not quite, and we did lose a lot of experience, good soccer players, but our goal should be to win the conference and the conference tournament.”
With the departure of several key players, Vardy said that the team will have to find new leaders, but he prefers to see it as an opportunity for players to step up. Knowing they would be losing 11 seniors, the team prepared for this outcome last spring with leadership training, both through book reading and the ropes course, as well as group discussions on the subject. For this reason, Vardy expects all his returning players to assume added responsibilities.
“We do expect everyone on the team to play a role, especially that junior and senior class, but even the freshmen who are now sophomores,” Vardy said. “They got a lot of playing time last year, they did well, they got good experiences, had a good season, and I expect them to be very positive influences on everybody else around here too.”
Junior defender Josh Pruett agreed with his coach on season targets, saying the team needed a ring, and spoke of the rebuild in terms of a new beginning.
“I really think it’s just a fresh start for a lot of guys,” Pruett said. “We get to create our own tradition now. We have a young team this year; we have two seniors currently on the team, we have five juniors, and then the rest are underclassmen, so it’s exciting. We can write our own destiny.”
But as one of the seven upperclassmen, Pruett remains aware of his increased role.
“It’s really tough to adapt, but it also puts responsibility on some of the older guys to grow up a little bit and assume more responsibility,” Pruett said.
As for sophomore midfielder Mason Hemstreet, he chooses to focus on the nine incoming freshmen rather than the departures, players he said could play a big role this season.
“I think the freshman class we brought in is insane,” Hemstreet said. “I think they’re all very hard workers, very good guys. I know that they will fight for this team, I know that they’ll push us, because when new players come in it pushes us to do better, because if they’re good we want to do better.”
With that in mind, Hemstreet said it was time to look past the notion of a rebuild and get on with the season.
“As a team, I think this year we kind of all see it as a regrowth year, but we don’t want to just see it as that, we want to see it as opportunity,” Hemstreet said. “We did lose 11 seniors, but we still have a great team, we still have hard workers, and we can do what we want, as long as we compete at a high level.”
And like the rest of the team, Hemstreet wants nothing less than a conference ring.
“The pressure’s still there to compete at a high level, to win,” he said. “We want to win a ring. That’s been the goal, that’s the goal every single year for every single team that will come through here.”
Berry’s men’s soccer team will host its pre-season tournament, the Berry Invitational, over the weekend of Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, before beginning its season by hosting Piedmont College on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m.