CANYON -- Coming off its 21st consecutive non-losing season, the West Texas A&M men’s soccer team has its eyes set on its first NCAA Tournament berth as an independent men’s soccer program without a conference. The Buffaloes had an excellent season last fall where they went 12-3-1 and are returning seven starters and 13 total letterwinners.
The Buffaloes boasted a high-flying offense and equally strong defensive line in 2013. They outscored their opponents 38-9, outshooting them 259-147, and recorded nine shutouts. They also reached as high as fifth in the national rankings.
WT began this fall garnering national attention in the early polls. They are tabbed 25th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire NCAA Division II Preseason National Rankings, which was announced earlier this month. The Buffs will play five matches against three teams also ranked or mentioned in the preseason poll (No. 22 Midwestern State, No. 23 Fort Hayes State and St. Edward’s).
The Buffs also made their debut this season at 13th in the BennettRank 2014 D2 Men's Soccer Top 25 Season Preview. Three of the Buffs' opponents are also featured in this top-25 poll: MSU (3rd), Eastern New Mexico (18th) and Colorado School of Mines (23rd). WT will open up its season this year against CSM at home while it will play two matches each against MSU and ENMU. The Buffs finished second in last year's final regular season BennettRank poll.
Head coach Butch Lauffer returns for his 24th season at the helm of the Buffs. The Washington, D.C., native, holds a 273-120-31 all-time record in his tenure as the men’s coach (1991-present). Including his 14 years as the head women’s coach (1996-2009), Lauffer is 462-187-48 with the Buffs and Lady Buffs.
WT heads into the fall as an Independent for the second-consecutive season. The Buffaloes competed in the LSC from 1999-2003 and again from 2009-2012 where they won five conference titles and one conference tournament championship. They held a brief membership in the Southwest Soccer Conference from 2004-2008 and won one conference title. They face an uphill challenge in reaching the postseason without a conference as they narrowly missed out the past two seasons though winning at least 11 games during both years.
“Somehow we have to figure out how to beat the computer,” noted Lauffer. “So much of it is based on things like schedules and a lot is against us because of the way conferences are aligned and such. We just have to continue to just try to win the games we play and we will be set. I think we have a hard enough schedule this season to accomplish that and this weekend will start us off that way.”
The Buffs will play 17 matches over the course of the regular season with nine on home turf. WT opens up the season with a tough regional test at home against CSM of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) this Friday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. The Orediggers made the NCAA Tournament last season as the No. 3 seed from the SCR with an 11-7-1 overall record, including postseason play.
“There is always some nerves when it comes to season openers,” said Lauffer. “I think there are just so many things that you can’t control and we have a shorter time to prepare now than we did when we first got here. There are some little things that make it complicated like judging how far to push the players, how much fitness to do and determining rest time. Then you wake up and realize that everyone else in the country has the same problem as you do.”
WT will then host Texas A&M-International (Sept. 7) of the Heartland Conference followed by two RMAC contests on the road against Colorado State-Pueblo (Sept. 12), who the Buffs defeated 2-0 in 2013's home opener, and Adams State (Sept. 14).
The Pitch in Canyon will be the playing surface for the next six matches against Dallas Baptist (Sept. 18), St. Edwards (Sept. 20), Oklahoma Christian (Sept. 25), Newman (Sept. 27), FHSU (Oct. 2) and ENMU (Oct. 8). The Buffs took both contests against FHSU last season and went 1-0-1 against ENMU.
“We want to get a good start and generate some excitement to get a good crowd during that stretch of mostly home games,” added Lauffer. “We really need to play off of that and be in the driver’s seat when we go on the road for the second half of the season.”
WT will then hit the road for four-straight beginning on Oct. 11 against MSU. The Mustangs defeated WT in both meetings last year and finished the season with 12-4-2 overall record. MSU advanced to the NCAA Tournament as the SCR No. 2 seed and defeated No. 3 CSM 1-0 before falling to Regis 2-1. The Buffs next three road games will be against UT-Permian Basin (Oct. 16), ENMU (Oct. 19) and TAMIU (Oct. 22).
The Buffs will play their final home match of the season against MSU on Oct. 30 before closing out the regular season with away contests at FHSU (Nov. 2) and Lubbock Christian (Nov. 6).
Experience will once again be a key factor for the Buffs this season as they return seven starters for the second-straight season.
“We really have a great core group of guys back on the defensive end and in midfield as well,” Lauffer stated. “We have a fairly mature team but we are also battling some nagging injuries so we hope to get those kids back soon. Once we do, we should be in great shape.”
Three of the four main starters from WT’s backline will be returning. Two of the senior leaders, Daniel Angloher and Michael Williams, combined for over 2,700 minutes. Angloher played every match and missed only one start while he produced 10 total points. Williams scored three times and added one assist while starting all 16 games. Additionally, Thomas Vickers, a 6’-3” sophomore from London, England, returns. He started 13 matches while appearing in 14, logging nearly 1,200 minutes and finding the net once.
A wealth of midfield experience returns as well with George Beasley, Vitor Cardoso, and Tre Norton. Beasley is the top-returning scorer from last year as he netted five goals and two assists for 12 points. Cardoso struggled to adjust early in the season but really found his game down the stretch, scoring four goals in the second half of the season and going 2-2 from PKs. Norton missed just two games last season and logged nearly 1,000 minutes on the pitch.
WT loses its leading goal scorer from 2013, Chase Withrow, who proved to be a dynamic attacker off the bench. But Lauffer believes he has just the guy to step up in that role this season in sophomore Gabe Williams.
“Gabe missed most of last season with medical issues and he has really been improving ever since he has come back on the field,” Lauffer explained. “I think he can come off the bench and make things happen very quickly. Gabe is very tricky with the ball and is a fearless athlete. He has also shown how hungry he is to be back on the field after being out of the game for a little while.”
The biggest change for the Buffs will be in goal. They lose Garrett Cooper who had an excellent year in 2013 with eight shutouts as he started all 16 matches. Look for sophomore Patrick Satorie to fill that role now after really impressing the staff this preseason.
“We should be well set in goal with Patrick and Carlos (Ruiz) this year,” Lauffer said. “Patrick is very athletic and kicks the ball well. He does a very good job at directing other people and he is extremely committed. I think his teammates see that and they appreciate that.”
WT has a strong set of new additions to the lineup, featuring both size and experience, which will likely fight for starting spots from day one. One to watch is 6’8”, 225 lb., Axel Insulander, a quick freshman forward from Sweden. He has already proved to be a great fit in Lauffer’s system and has shown great footwork and ball handling skills for his size. Also adding size to the roster is Ombrai Oguoko, a 6’3” defender from London, England, who will be difficult to keep out of a starting role. Oguoko could very well fill that last defensive vacancy left by Chandler Elder. Additionally, Johnny Oliver, a junior transfer from the University of West England, should provide some leadership in the midfield.
“We’ve really tried to become bigger and more athletic in our lineup and I think we have done that this offseason,” added Lauffer. “These guys seem to be fitting in great into our system and I believe they will help us out a lot this season.”
The Buffs will open up their season at home this Friday, Sept. 5, against Colorado Mines. Kickoff at The Pitch will be 7 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. match on Sunday with Texas A&M-International. See the links at the top of the page or on the Buffalo soccer schedule page for live stats and video for both matches.
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