By Nick Brockman
Similarities abound between the men’s and women’s soccer programs at Mountain State University heading into this season’s fall campaigns.
Men’s coach Steve Laraba and women’s coach Stephanie Kot, both Marshall University graduates, enter as first-year Cougars coaches with limited roster sizes, and while both said they anticipate 2011 to be a rebuilding year, they also expect success.
“Our goal and expectation is to have a winning season,” Laraba said of the men’s team. “We want to win games, and we want to challenge for the (Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). We want to get out there and play well within the league and hopefully get a good seed in the tournament and make a run to win the conference. Our expectations are high, but I believe they are realistic.”
Laraba’s hiring was announced in April, so he’s had a few months to work with the team, but Kot has had significantly less time, joining the program just two weeks ago.
“We definitely have the odds against us, but we have a great bunch of girls on our team,” Kot said. “They are terrific, and we’re going to take this year as a building year, a building and learning year, and take it and go with it.”
Kot, who replaces former coach Heather Faber, inherited a roster of just nine players, but has expanded the team to 12 with hopes of a couple more joining the squad.
It’s her first-ever head coaching job on the collegiate level, Kot said. Though the obstacles seem large, the 24-year-old Kot said she doesn’t give them much thought because she thoroughly enjoys what she’s doing, as do the players.
“These girls have the biggest heart,” she said. “They want to play. We’ve been doing two-a-days for the last almost three weeks.”
Kot said sophomore Kayla Richardson, who played goal keeper in high school before switching to defense, has established herself as a leader and impact player by switching positions again in order to better help the squad.
“She stepped up to the plate, and she’s playing goalie now,” Kot said.
The whole team is expected to make an impact though, Kot said.
That includes returning player Whitney Anderson, a junior who plays defense and several key freshmen.
Freshmen Elisa Lopes and Michelle Ahmed, both of Brazil, will be expected to make large contributions.
Lopes is a defender, while Ahmed could establish herself as one of Mountain State’s scoring threats.
“(Ahmed) plays mid, and she’s definitely a girl that we’re going to try to get her to be our goal scorer, because she’s just really talented on the ball,” Kot said.
Another freshman who will have a key role is center midfielder Kelsey Burr, Kot said.
Meanwhile, the men’s team has a roster size of 15, with four players returning from last year’s team, led by former coach Cesar Quintero. In 2010, the Cougars finished 9-3-6, according to the squad’s website.
The men’s team features several local high school graduates, including Woodrow Wilson’s Tony Serge, Victor Garcia of Oak Hill and Princeton’s Mashi Johnson.
Laraba, a 1994 Woodrow grad, said he thinks the local flavor will help boost attendance and also show local youth players there’s an opportunity to play on the collegiate level.
Laraba said the team will expect contributions from other players as well, including captain Michael Callaghan, who will play midfield and some defense.
Rafael Borgess will play forward and can cause problems for opposing defenses, Laraba added, while Ricardo Romero provides solid protection at goal keeper.
Win or lose, the Cougars will play with a team effort, Laraba said.
Likewise, Kot said her players will achieve their goals together.
“We have to climb up that mountain to get to the top, and we will,” she said. “We’ll get that done. That’s why I love the girls on the team, because they know what it’s going to take to be at the top of that level, and we’re going to learn and take every game as a learning experience, just try to win every game, go out there and win even though we have low numbers. We’re doing everything we can to come out with a winning season.”
The women’s squad will open the season at Southern Wesleyan University (S.C.) at 5:30 p.m. Friday, while the men will play at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio) on Sept. 2.