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An Eye On The Net

The expectation for every soccer season at NC State is success. This year, the men's soccer team plans to spell success: G-O-A-L-S. Putting the ball in the nets will be priority number one from the September 3rd season opener, up until the ACC and NCAA Tournaments in November. "Winning the ACC Championship is our goal," said Head Coach George Tarantini. "If we can do well in the ACC then we can do well nationally. Our most important goal is to develop the attitude that we can play against anyone, any place."

Last year at this time, Tarantini was sitting back in his office pondering how his squad would replace nine lost starters from the previous season. As it turned out, the Wolfpack had a somewhat disappointing 1998 campaign, but hope to turn things around this year.

"Our strength has always been a dedication to winning and a commitment to each other," said Tarantini. "This season marks a rededication to that tradition. We have the personnel to bring us to the next level."

Now as Tarantini enters his 14th year at NC State, he can look gleefully at his 1999 team's roster because it shows all 11 starters are returning. Something else different from last season is the presence of solid senior leadership. There is an abundance of it this year, as there are four veteren seniors who are the centerpiece of the 1999 squad. Jeremy Ballenger, Kevin Butler, Sebastian Rodriguez, and Mike Smith will try to guide this still relatively young squad through the trenches of ACC play.

"There is, this year, the ailing element of memory," said Tarantini. "The memory of a losing season will no doubt spur the pride of players bent on proving they belong on college soccer's most illuminating stage."

Goalkeeper
One major card that Tarantini holds this season is the return of an experienced goalkeeper. Junior Eric Handley returns to mind the nets after leading the ACC in saves last year with 91. Handley started all 18 matches, and finished with a 2.42 goals against average, including two shutouts.

Freshman Mitchell Watson will make a push for immediate playing time this year. Watson was a member of the under-18 US National Team, and was one of the top-rated goalkeepers coming out of high school.

"There will be stiff competition in goal this year," said Tarantini. "This will be a challenge that will no doubt help both players and the team."

Defense
The Wolfpack defense is probably the most experienced field position. This group is led by seniors Jeremy Ballenger and Mike Smith. Ballenger, a co-captain for the second year in a row, started 17 games last season and recorded one assist after switching from the midfield. He was also named to the ACC All-Tournament team in post season play. Smith was the only NC State field player last year to start all 18 contests.

"Those two seniors will be the leaders of our defense," said Tarantini. "Our defense will be among the most experienced in the league this season."

Sophomore Damon Butler also returns to the starting lineup. Butler performed strongly his freshman campaign, as he started 15 games and notched one assist.

Eric Kaufman will return to action after taking a medical redshirt because of surgery on his left thigh. As a freshman in 1997, Kaufman saw action in 17 games. Sophomore Kyle Smith will also be back, looking for more playing time than last season.

A pair of freshmen will give this unit some added depth. Phillip Herndl comes from Jordan High School, where he was a three-year letterwinner. Marcus Jackson was a first-team all-state selection as a senior in Baltimore, Maryland.

Midfield
This year"s group of midfielders will be a young group, with the potential to be very productive. Junior Shaker Asad leads the way as he was named to the All-ACC second team last year, and was voted the team MVP. The Raleigh native is an explosive playmaker, who finished second on the team with four goals and nine points overall. Asad led the team in shots taken with 57.

"Shaker once again gives us a gifted field-general in the midfield," said Tarantini. "He spent part of his summer studying the game with one of Holland"s premier clubs. He will look to exhibit the high-level of training and professionalism learned from his experience overseas."

Asad will be joined in the midfield by returning starters Kevin Butler and Columbian native Juan Camilo Vallejo. Butler will provide leadership as a returning senior, as he started every game last year except for a one game red card suspension. Vallejo is a junior who played in all 18 contests, and recorded two assists.

The remaining midfield slot will be a battle between juniors Andy Crotts and Tony Malcolm, as well as sophomore Michael Karim. Malcolm started seven games last year before suffering a stress fracture in his thigh that ended his season, but still led the team with three assists. Those three combined for 26 starts and 11 points overall. Sophomore Ross Weikel also returns after seeing action in 16 games.

Offense
The Wolfpack offense will once again be led by senior co-captain Sebastian Rodriguez. The Chile native was tops in production last year, as he finished with five goals and two assists for twelve points. Rodriguez started the season strong by netting two goals against Charleston Southern in the opener, and repeated that feat against Georgia Southern, both home victories.

Junior striker Nick Olivencia will be Rodriguez"s running mate up on the front line. Last season Olivencia finished third for the Wolfpack with two goals and five points, including the game-winner versus Coastal Carolina. Also returning on offense will be sophomore Matt Tabor. Tabor had one goal, the game-winner, in the season finale at East Carolina.

"Our forwards are well aware of their directives," said Tarantini. "We have to become an exciting offensive team that can score goals. Our forwards have something to prove after a sub-par 1998 showing in the league."

A pair of freshmen, Jonathan Fuenmayer and Mike Kutcher, will be sure to add some firepower, as will Jason Faulcon, a transfer from Louisburg College. Kutcher was named first-team all-state as well as Mega-7 Conference and regional Player of the year as a senior at North Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte.

The Schedule
For the 1999 season, Coach Tarantini has composed yet another very difficult schedule. Not only does the Wolfpack face the rough rigors of the ACC schedule, but Tarantini has also put together one of the hardest non-conference schedules in school history.

The Pack will open the season by playing host to Charleston Southern and Colgate in the adidas/Wolfpack Classic September 3-4. They turn right around and head to Durham the next weekend to participate in the Duke Footlocker Tournament. There they tangle with two of the BIG EAST"s top teams in Connecticut and Rutgers, both of which went to the NCAA Tournament last year.

This season NC State plays host to defending conference champion Clemson, nationally-ranked Virginia, and rival North Carolina. Their home non-conference schedule includes Elon, Liberty, Appalachian State, and East Carolina. UNC Greensboro and UNC Charlotte will be in town the weekend of October 30 to take part in the Big Four Tournament with the Wolfpack and Duke.

"All the elements necessary for success are in place," said Tarantini. "Out strengths are in our numbers, our pride, and our hunger to build a better memory to sustain us through another year. I"m excited about our future, very excited."

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Midfielders
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