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September 10, 2013

Renfro a Keeper for Tech

By: Marc Mullen

Goalkeeper Kyle Renfro wants to save the Hokies’ fortunes this season and help the team to an ACC Tournament appearance – and perhaps beyond

If the Hokies want to improve on their seven-win season from a
year ago, then they need a big season from goalkeeper Kyle
Renfro, who has been a starter since midway through his freshman

He’s a Lynchburg, Va., native, starred at Brookville High School and did not commit to Virginia Tech until his senior year. He enters his final playing season for Tech knowing that a lot of his team’s 2013 success will hinge on how well he performs. He sorely wants to improve upon the Hokies’ seven-win season from a year ago and will not worry about the draft or a professional future until after the season.

Yes, this could be the lead for a story on football’s Logan Thomas. But it isn’t.

It’s about Kyle Renfro, the senior goalkeeper and co-captain for the Hokies’ men’s soccer team, a young man who also grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 90 minutes northeast of Blacksburg. He, like Thomas, will be looking to close out the final chapter of his Hokie career in grand fashion.

“It’s very interesting. That probably doesn’t happen too often where you see something like that,” Renfro said about two guys from the same high school being the focal points for two different teams at the same Division I school. “I’ve always been good friends with Logan. He’s a very humble guy. So it’s a pretty cool thing, but I’ve never really thought about it too much.

“Let’s just say we’re both doing what we love, and we’ve both been working hard on it our whole lives and we’re just trying to do the best we can. And as you can see, it’s paid off for us. It’s an interesting concept, for sure, when you think about it.”

Renfro has worked, for most of his life anyway, on perfecting his goalkeeper craft. He started out as a field player in a recreational league playing for his father, Martin, who actually coached many of his teams as a child. He also played baseball and basketball.

Around 11 years old, Renfro believes, he made the move to a travel squad, Lynchburg United Soccer, where he stayed until his junior year of high school. It was with LUS when he first made an appearance between the pipes, mostly due to necessity.

“One year, during our travel season, both of our goalies moved out of town,” Renfro said. “So our coach [Chuck Flournoy] asked us if anyone wanted to step up and play goalie. So I did it in practice and did well, and he just decided to stick me there for the rest of the season.

“I ended up performing well and enjoying it, so I just stayed there the rest of my time, which was a great move, as you can see, because it got me to where I’m at today.”

It still wasn’t an easy path for the relatively local kid to make his dream of playing for the Hokies come true. He grew up rooting for Virginia Tech, and he realized that his best way of getting noticed by the Tech coaching staff meant switching club teams.

Renfro moved on to the Roanoke Star, a bigger club coached by John Faircloth. In his first season with the Star, Renfro helped the club to a No. 1 ranking in Virginia, a No. 10 ranking on the East Coast and a No. 31 ranking nationally. Yet that didn’t get the attention of those in Blacksburg. So Renfro, who was getting Division III offers and some attention from Division II schools, took it upon himself to make them notice.

“Going into my senior year, I came to the Virginia Tech soccer camp because I heard the best way to get recruited was to go to camps so the coaches could see you for, like, four days straight in training sessions,” he said. “The goalie coach at the time was Kevin Doyle [a former Tech assistant], and he saw me play in the training sessions and thought I was good.

“He asked me to play with some of the older guys, the guys that were currently at Tech, and he came out and watched that and I did really good. Then, on my third day of camp, he pulled me aside and was like, ‘Hey, you are good enough to play here. I want you to come play here.’

“I was like, ‘What!?’ It was out of the blue, and I was like ‘Yeah, that’s awesome, but I’ve got to think about it.’ But right after he told me that, I was so ecstatic. I just ran up and called my parents and told them the news, and they couldn’t believe it either. A month later, I verbally committed.”

Entering his first season on campus, Renfro would face an interesting situation, as he was one of three keepers in camp, including two juniors. None of them had played a collegiate minute the previous year.

He was also battling an injury, as he had dislocated his left shoulder the day before preseason camp began. It did not deter him, though, as he played well. It took the staff just until the third game to insert the freshman into the starting lineup in a match at South Florida.

“My very first college game was on national TV down in Miami, which was a little wake-up call,” Renfro said. “National TV, my first game, and getting used to the speed of play, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?’ But it was fine. I played well, and from there, I sort of solidified my spot as a starter.”

However, it wasn’t for long, and the reasoning wasn’t due to a lack of quality play – Renfro went 3-1-1 in his next five starts, including a tie against Clemson and a win at NC State. He would miss the final 10 games of the season with a shoulder injury after making a start against Wake Forest.

“When we were down at Wake Forest, in the first half, I ended up dislocating my right shoulder,” he said. “From there, we talked to the doctors and just decided the best route for me was to go ahead and get surgery on both shoulders.

“So I was done for that season and got surgery on both about a month apart. I rehabbed all spring, and I got to a point where I could play a little bit at the end of spring. Coming into my sophomore year, I was 100 percent healthy, and I got to starting again.”

If the Hokies want to improve on their seven-win season from a year ago,
then they need a big season from goalkeeper Kyle Renfro, who has been a
starter since midway through his freshman year.

And he hasn’t stop starting. Renfro had reeled off 39 consecutive starts at Tech entering the 2013 season and played all but 13 minutes in that span. The streak included what he considered one of the best games of his career – shutting out then-No. 1 North Carolina and making a career-high nine saves in the Hokies’ 1-0 upset of the Tar Heels back in 2011.

It will take many performances like that for Renfro to accomplish his on-field goals for this season, both personally and for the team.

“I want to be named the best goalkeeper in the ACC,” he said. “Over the past couple of years, me and the coaching staff have agreed that I’ve kind of gotten gypped out on some accolades, which is fine. That just gives me more motivation to go after it this year.

“I want to get at least 10 shutouts, and that could go along as a team goal because it’s not just me. I’ve got 10 other guys working in front of me. Also, as a team, definitely make the ACC Tournament because … it’s no longer every team makes the tournament. It’s just the top eight.

“And if it we make the ACC Tournament, we should make the NCAA Tournament, and that’s something that’s eluded us the past couple years. We need to get the program back to constantly getting there and playing at that level.”

Over the summer, Renfro actually got to play at an even higher level, as he spent two months living in Washington, D.C., and playing for the DC United U23 team in the National Premier Soccer League. It gave him insight into what it takes for a soccer player to reach the professional ranks.

“It was a great experience, and it was an amazing opportunity for me to see the next level,” he said. “To get exposure to the level of play and what it takes to be there and how I need to train and the professional environment, I saw what that’s like.

“It was good to see that and to see what I need to improve upon. I also got to play with some of the best college players in the nation, so it was good to see where I stood against other college kids, too.

“But my task at hand is to focus on our team right now. As long as we do well and succeed in our season, everything after will fall into place. If we succeed in winning games and doing well, that means I’m probably doing well myself. So getting drafted, it’s in the back of my mind, but I’m not really thinking about it.”

History certainly solidifies his point. The last time a Hokie was selected in the MLS draft was in 2008, when two were actually taken. It followed the 2007 season that saw the Tech men’s soccer team play its last NCAA Tournament game.

But one has to walk before he or she can run. And Renfro knows that getting Tech back to the ACC Tournament is the first step.