By Carter Gibson Hunt, Sports Editor
Defending a title is tough. Just look at the NFL where there have not been back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the ’03-’04 Patriots. In college it can be even more difficult as star players graduate and are replaced by hungry yet inexperienced freshman. But the Furman Soccer team did exactly that last season, taking home the SoCon title for the second time in as many years. The question now is can they grab the title for a third time in a row?
Senior captain Lewis Hawke has no intentions of just settling for a SoCon title though, both his and the team’s dreams are much bigger. “We have achieved SoCon success two years in a row but not reached our national goals of going far in the NCAA tournament,” Hawke said via email.
The 2016 season will be the first season without second-team All-American Sven Lissek. Lissek was a human wall on the field and played a major role in the success of the Paladins soccer team, you might remember the hashtag ThingsSvenCouldSave. But he is gone on to play for a German club soccer team and Furman is left trying to replace a seemingly irreplaceable keeper.
Hawke didn’t seem to concerned over the lost seniors though, “It’s always difficult to replace leaders on the team, but it just calls for the new seniors to step up and take the roles left by the graduates,” said Hawke.
Hawke himself will be one of those senior leaders that will have a major role this season. He has been placed on second team All-SoCon the past two years and will have ample opportunity to continue that streak, if not make it to first team this season.
Any sort of beginning season struggle that Furman could have gone through after the changing of the guard seemed to be non-existent. Furman opened its preseason with a scoreless draw against Wake Forest, the number five team in the country.
Perhaps the biggest stat of the game could be the most surprising but important for the Paladins: Wake-Forest outshot Furman 12-4. The bend-don’t -break (defense that allows close oppotunities without giving up a goal) defense only allowed four shots on goal though, all of which were saved by Junior Johnny Smith.
The defense, led by Senior Dylan Rowe and Junior Kyle McLagen, could very well be the team’s biggest strength this season. Smith, officially a red-shirt sophomore, came to replace Lissek last season and despite some struggles he gained valuable experience in goal that has translated to early success in this soccer season. He recorded a shut-out in his first regular season game against twenty-third ranked Florida International University (FIU) and only gave up a goal due to a PK against Navy in a 1-1 draw.
Sophomore Joshua Baker came into the season ready to prove that Furman would not spend any time fretting over how it might defend its back-to-back SoCon titles and scored the goal that put the Paladins over FIU. Baker’s goal represents Furman’s style of play. Furman has no one star, rather a team of stars waiting to step up on any given night.
Hawke commented on this idea, “We are more of a team oriented soccer team. Hard work wins games for us, and with that you will see different guys step up every game to be the star on the night. “
The team’s first home game of the season will be against ex-SoCon foe College of Charleston Sept. 3, the first of a slew of non-conference matches including SEC members Kentucky and number 24 ranked South Carolina both at home. If Coach Doug Allison wants year number 20 at helm of men’s soccer team to finish as a success, winning a few big non-conference games could go a long ways.