It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. We're starting with Division I runner-up Virginia Tech and their head coach, Panchito Ojeda.You played in the last game of the season – the goal of every team – but didn’t get the result you wanted. After a four-month reflection period, what are your thoughts on the game? Was there a path to a victory?
Panchito Ojeda: Losing in the championship game was an incredibly tough experience. I still haven't brought myself to watch the film. Hats off to Concordia; they played their butts off and were dialed in at the right time.
We thought we had a shot in that game, but were not able to deliver on some plays when we needed to and their faceoff and goalie play was the difference. It was a tough game, but it was still the first championship game appearance in program history and something our team should be proud of.
Aidan Smith and Jared Cole are back on offense and there appears to be quality players returning at all levels of the field. As you enter the fall, what are the key positions that need to be filled after graduating 13 seniors?
PO: We graduated a ton of excellent players. They put in a lot of work to get our culture to the right place and while we hoped to raise a trophy in the end, they got us to the final game. They will all be missed.
The graduation of Walker Everhart will be a big hole to fill on defense. He was a do-it-all defender. Goalie Will Eckert stepped in and played great all year for us while Danny Gaffney fought through injuries to be a stud at the dot.
We will need to fill all those spots. Offensively, we graduated two first line midfielders, a second line mid and a starting attackman. All those holes will need to be plugged by younger guys.
Give us a couple of names in your incoming class that could potentially play a role for you this spring? How about a couple returners who might make the jump in ’24?
PO: We have a strong freshman class coming in. They will push our returners and make for extremely competitive practices. We will see a jump from a couple of attackmen in Dan Weber, James Stewart and Jack Jenkins.
At the midfield, Tyler Crookes enters his senior year as a guy who can make some highlight reel plays. He will be flanked by players such as Liam Savage, Kyle Dickson and Austin and Alex Ashley.
There are a number of other players who are going to be competing with those guys for time. Those players will give us depth and can step up to make big plays in big games, like Jake Blibaum, who might have had the ball for a combined 10 seconds but had four or five goals at nationals.
Defensively, we return two starting defenders in Patrick Droney and Tyler Rosso, as well as our dynamic trio at LSM in Christians Edwards, Bobby Savage and Kyle Sudler. Our defensive midfield features some of the most blue collar players in the MCLA. On defense, we are ready for a dog fight in every game. We know we’ve got to bring it.
What’s the schedule look like? What are the key non-conference opponents?
PO: The schedule is tough. We are fortunate to have a number of home games, including Florida, UVU, Arizona, South Carolina and Chapman. We head out to Colorado to battle the Colorado schools, which is still one of the toughest trips in the MCLA.
Of course, conference play is no slouch with Liberty and Clemson continually being top 10 opponents. We play JMU early and they are quietly putting together a strong squad.
Will Virginia Tech be using the end of last season as motivation for this year, or will you and the Hokies start fresh on a new journey?
PO: Every team it is a new year. Carry over from the previous year is certainly there, but this is a new team. We have our own set of goals for this year. This group is hungry to get back to the ALC championship game as well as the national title contest.
We know the target is squarely on our back this year, so playing from in front is new territory for us. This team is ready to face that challenge. As always, our culture is our main focus and from what we can tell thus far, it is the main focus of our leadership and our team.
With that as the main target, they will put themselves in good position each game.
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]