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August 15, 2011

Returning experience and talent, Tech men's soccer squad ready to see improvements in 2011

By: Marc Mullen

The calendar had just been turned to October and Virginia Tech men’s soccer head coach Mike Brizendine had his lineup card ready for Tech’s match at Wake Forest, checking off freshman Kyle Renfro as his starting goalkeeper for the seventh consecutive match.

James Shupp

Things were looking good for the Hokies. After dropping their first two games, they had compiled a 3-2-1 mark with Renfro starting between the pipes, including an ACC win at NC State and a tie versus Clemson. Renfro was also sporting a 0.84 goals allowed average and a 79.2 save percentage.

Just 48 seconds into that contest, the Demon Deacons put a goal on the scoreboard, only the sixth allowed by Renfro in more than 538 minutes, but it was what happened 20 minutes later that turned the Hokie season.

Trying to stop a ball from going over the end line, Renfro dove and landed awkwardly, dislocating his right shoulder and ending his season. Tech went on to lose that match 2-0 and fall in nine of its last 11 to limp to a 5-13-1 finish.

“That finish was a combination of two things – one, Renfro is very, very good; and two, our backups didn’t meet the challenges of our schedule, so that combination was painful,” Brizendine said. “To be honest, we started 3-5-1, but Renfro didn’t even play in the first couple of games. We had a positive record when Renfro was playing.”

Looking to this year, Brizendine points not just to Renfro’s return, but also to those defenders in front of him, including the return of redshirt senior James Shupp. A defender, Shupp missed the 2010 campaign to injury after starting in 55 games the previous three seasons. Renfro, Shupp and the rest of the defenders should be the strength of this year’s team.

“There are a number of things, and having Renfro healthy makes our whole goalkeeping situation much better,” Brizendine said. “And having the guys in reserves, we have firmed that situation up.

“And having James Shupp back in the lineup and getting some other guys playing time, like Devante Dubose, was good. He comes in late in the season and has an outstanding performance. We are very excited about him. So I think we are going to firm some things up in the back line.”

Dubose saw limited playing time through the first two months of the season, but earned four starts to end the year. Junior David Fiorello, who started 35 matches in his first two years, and senior Jeremy Williams, who made 12 starts in 2010, return on the back line.

“David Fiorello was a captain last year. He brings a lot of things to the table and he’s a very good leader,” Brizendine said. “And it’ll be nice for him to have Shupp back, someone he can lean on, but he’s come along way. He had to really step up last year, so this year, he feels much more comfortable, especially as one of the older guys.”

And there aren’t too many “older guys.” Brizendine enters his third year at the helm of the Tech team and has brought in more than 20 guys over the past two seasons in an attempt to get the players whom he wants and who fit the system he wants to play.

“This is my second recruiting class and this class … we spent more time and energy recruiting this group of young men than the first one,” he said. “We actually were recruiting both of them, our ‘10 class and our ‘11 class, at the same time. So we are very comfortable with what these kids are going to add to the table.

“We’re optimistic. I think the ship is still moving in the right direction. We had some setbacks last year. It’s difficult to bring in 20 new kids at one time, so we tried to stagger it over a couple of years, and I think we are getting closer to that, and you’ll see a difference in both the quality of play on the field as well as results.”

Not wanting to single anyone out, and because he hasn’t spent too much time with them, Brizendine is reserved on any expectations for his newcomers, but isn’t shy about highlighting a couple of sophomores who excelled in their first seasons with the program.

“There are a couple of kids that are going to start and some that are going to add depth – be the 11-12-13-14 spot or at least that’s we think,” he said. “Now, I haven’t stepped on the field with them yet, but that is what we are projecting.”

“There are a couple that we are excited about and will make an impact similar to last year’s class, guys like Beto Velazquez, David Clemens, Mikey Minutillo. So while we have some veterans in the back, everything in front of them will be younger kids, freshmen or sophomores.”

Velazquez made 10 starts and played in 16 total games as a midfielder, while Clemens and Minutillo showed off some scoring ability. Minutillo, a forward, started 11 games and played in 18, and was second on the team with five goals and also added an assist. Clemens, a midfielder, was right behind him with four goals and one assist in 18 games, five of those starts.

Junior midfielder Robert Alberti was another Hokie with a four-goal, one-assist season, playing in all 19 matches and starting 12 of them. However, Tech will have to replace almost half of its points lost from last season (42 of 78), with the biggest loss being Clarke Bentley’s six goals and three assists.

“We always hope someone steps up and becomes a 10-goal guy, but right now, I don’t see anyone at that point,” Brizendine said. “That doesn’t mean someone can’t emerge. Again, Mikey Minutillo and David Clemens, we expect big things from them.

“As we look at it, it’s going to be scoring by committee. There will be more guys with five or six goals, but you never know. Being a goal scorer is an interesting thing. You get hot and your confidence is high, and it just happens.”

Ten-goal guys are not the norm in Blacksburg, as only eight men have ever reached double figures in goals in the program’s 38-year history and it’s only happened twice since the turn of the century, last in 2006.

But also to be successful, the Hokies will need to do something not done since 2007 – register more than two wins away from home. Over the past three seasons, on the road and at neutral sites, Tech is a combined 5-21-3.

Working in its favor, though, is that Tech plays five straight at Thompson Field to open the season, and with a young squad, that has to help.

“We want to be at home as much as possible, in front of our fans, but I think, as you get older, it gets easier to go on the road,” Brizendine said. “But really, anytime you leave your home against an ACC opponent, it’s going to be challenging.

“I think, because of our experience, especially in the back line, with guys like Shupp specifically and his kind of leadership, it’s going to be easier for us. I expect better results away from our place.

“We’re going to take our lumps every once in a while because these young guys are still learning to play at this level. But again, I think it’s a very good group, and I think they are going to adapt quickly.”