For the first time in years, the VWC Men’s Soccer preseason camp is filled with an air of high hopes and swagger.
Winners of last season’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championship, the Marlins powered their way through the regular season with a 16-5-1 record, their best in three years, and earned an NCAA tournament berth with their conference title.
Yet, despite the Marlins’ fielding an array of battle-hardened players and veteran seniors, this year’s Men’s Soccer program is about doing something much deeper: building a foundation of consistent success, leadership and family.
“We talk about it a lot with our guys, on being more than a team,” said Head Coach Chris Mills. “We want to have a family-like atmosphere at all times, having everybody engaged and involved in our program.”
The team slogan, “Tots Units Fem Forca,” which translates to, “Together we are stronger,” has been adopted to reflect the family atmosphere. The Catalan mantra, which originated from Spanish soccer powerhouse Barcelona, has served as a stepping stone for the program’s goals.
“What we mean by (the slogan) is we want to be more than a soccer team for VWC and for ourselves,” explained senior forward Isaac Arrington. “This program aims to be role models for the Virginia Wesleyan College community on the basis of respect, leadership, community service, success, hard work, and most importantly entertainment.”
Under Mills, who begins his second year as head coach, the soccer program has shifted focus to building a consistent winner, which, according to the coaching staff, begins with leadership.
“We put a lot of emphasis on leadership with all of our guys,” said Assistant Coach Evan Scheffey. “During the fall season and throughout the spring, we had leadership meetings with our captains and just talked about different ways that they can serve the team and kind of help bring the younger players along.”
The program has even looked to professional sports organizations, like the St. Louis Cardinals and San Antonio Spurs, for inspiration and leadership ideas.
“The San Antonio Spurs are a great example. Some of their older players are very much mentoring the younger players saying, ‘This is the way it’s done,’” said Scheffey. “When the senior class does leave, then those younger players know this is the way it’s going to be done and then year in and year out they’re just continuing to mentor the younger guys.”
Senior captain and midfielder Josh McNamara will be one of those players helping the new class get adjusted. A veteran of the past four seasons, McNamara, along with the rest of the senior class, aim to use their experience as a building block for the season.
“With seven guys that have come from an under .500 record to being recognized nationally has been a long but worthwhile journey,” said McNamara. “We all bring leadership and experience throughout the season. It raises the level for the entire team each practice and game.”
Moreover, the program has brought on 10 freshmen to replace last year’s class, who have already impressed the veterans of the team.
“The freshmen class that the coaches brought in is stacked with several sharp guys that can flat-out play,” said Arrington. “After our recent scrimmage against Barton College, they’ve accepted their accelerated roles and are fully prepared to exceed them.”
The team, fueled with experience and youth, believes it can go further than it has ever gone before, setting goals that go beyond another ODAC conference title trophy.
“(We want to) bring to VWC another championship and make a deep run into the NCAA tournament,” McNamara said. “With the group of guys here this year, that is a very good possibility.”
As the program begins to focus on being more than just a team, the Marlins are ready to leave something that will last for seasons to come.
“The overall expectations for the team this year is to be able to look at each other in the eyes after each run, drill, practice, game, and the season, and be able to tell your brother that you did all you could to fulfill your role for this amazing program, ” said Arrington. “We expect to go much farther than we did last year and begin setting a legacy for our program here at Wesleyan.”