BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech men’s soccer team hopes to shine even brighter than it did last fall.
The Hokies are ranked No. 16 in the national preseason coaches Top 25 poll. They return nine of 11 starters from last year’s team, which won 11 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
“We aim for better than what we did last year,” fourth-year junior forward Nico Quashie said after a recent practice. “We have the players, the depth, the mentality, the coaching for it.
“Everyone’s driven this year because we really think that we have a chance to do big things.”
Last year, Virginia Tech reaped the No. 12 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and a first-round bye. But after beating Charlotte in the second round, Tech suffered a disappointing 3-0 home loss to unseeded James Madison in the Sweet 16.
“It should be an even better year than last year,” said sophomore goalkeeper Mathijs Swaneveld, who made the All-ACC third team last fall. “We should’ve gone even further last year than we did.”
The Hokies are seeking their fourth straight NCAA tournament bid, which would be the longest string of NCAA appearances in their history.
“We all know what we can do, and we’re all excited,” said junior midfielder Kristo Strickler, who made the All-ACC second team last fall. “The goal is to win the national championship, and we actually do think that’s totally in our grasp.
“We all know that something big can happen this year.”
The Hokies will kick off their season with two games in Southern California. Virginia Tech will visit Loyola Marymount on Friday and will visit UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 1.
“That’s a great way to start off the season, going out west,” Strickler said. “Maybe some beach time. Hit Rodeo [Drive].”
“I’ll try to get on a surfboard,” coach Mike Brizendine said.
The Hokies went 11-7-3 overall and 3-4-1 in ACC play last year, when they won at Notre Dame and tied Virginia.
Virginia Tech is one of seven ACC teams in the preseason Top 25 poll.
“We have some talent. I think we have some depth. But there’s a big target on our back,” Brizendine said.
Tech’s home schedule includes games against No. 6 North Carolina (Sept. 13), No. 9 Notre Dame (Oct. 18), No. 12 Virginia (Oct. 25) and 2018 NCAA tournament participant Grand Canyon (Sept. 17). The road schedule includes visits to No. 10 Duke, No. 14 Louisville and 2018 NCAA tournament participant Princeton.
“The margin for error is so tight with the kind of schedule we play,” Brizendine said.
The Hokies have been picked to finish fourth in the six-team Coastal Division in the ACC’s preseason coaches poll, behind UNC, UVa and Duke.
“We can prove them wrong,” Strickler said.
The Hokies, who ranked second in the ACC in goals (37) last year, should again have a potent offense.
Strickler had 10 goals and four assists last season, while Quashie had six goals and two assists.
“It’s going to be a great offense,” Strickler said.
A 2018 Roanoke Times feature on Strickler mentioned that his mother was born in the Philippines. Thanks to that article, Strickler was invited to compete for a roster spot on the Philippines national team. The Ohio native attended training camps in March and June; he has not yet heard if he has made the squad.
Other returning players include James Kasak (one goal, team-high seven assists); Jon Ingason (four goals); and Brendan Moyers (three goals).
But David Sanz, who had three goals and one assist, returned home to Spain instead of sticking around for his senior season.
The offense could get a boost from freshman midfielder Daniel Pereira, a Northside High School graduate. Pereira, the 2019 Timesland boys soccer player of the year, is a likely starter.
“His speed, his quickness, his skill set — he’s a complete player,” Brizendine said. “We’ve got to get him a little stronger. His ball movement, I’d like to get better. But he’s excellent.”
This is the first time the squad has included a graduate of a Timesland high school since Blacksburg graduate Jeremy Williams was a Tech senior in 2011. Williams is now an assistant women’s soccer coach at Miami.
Pereira had 44 goals for Northside last season, when he helped the Vikings make the Class 3 state final.
“One of the quickest players I’ve seen,” Quashie said. “You can’t really stay in front of him.”
Tech could use a stingier defense this year, however.
Swaneveld had 95 saves last fall. But the Hokies allowed a league-high 27 goals.
“We have pretty much the same defense as last year,” said Swaneveld, who is from the Netherlands. “We also have more depth.
“We have more feeling with each other than last year, so it should only be better defense-wise than last year. The longer you play with each other, the more you know about each other.”