San Antonio–A strong finish to the 2006, combined with the return of eight starters from that squad, have prospects for the 2007 season looking good for the St. Mary’s University Rattlers.
St. Mary’s finished the 2006 season by going 4-3 over the final seven games, with two one-goal losses in that stretch. With a tough early start to the season, a freshman in goal, and several new starters in the field, a slow start could have meant a long season. Instead, the Rattlers regrouped and were one of the most dangerous teams in the South Central Region at the end of the season. Their efforts were rewarded as they finished second in the tough Heartland Conference race. That finish, combined with the players returning, has head coach Que Willis excited.
“I’m expecting to have a good year,” Willis said. “We have a lot of quality players back and added a good recruiting class. We need to score more goals this season, but I think that we have players that can step up and get that done.”
With goal-scoring one of the focuses of the team, Willis is looking for senior midfielder Kris Sumter and forward Scott Kilpatrick to lead the charge. Sumter, a San Antonio native, battled an injury all season last year and scored just one goal. Sumter scored four goals in 2005 and is looking to get back to that form this year. Kilpatrick had a similar power outage in 2005, tallying just two goals after producing 16 in his first two seasons. Despite their lack of goal-scoring success in 2006, both players earned All-Heartland honors last season.
“I’m looking for good things from Chris,” Willis said. “He’ s working hard to do what he’s capable of again. I expect that Scott will bounce back this year.”
“We’re trying to find goal-scorers,” Willis said. “We need to find the right group of players to get on the scoresheet for us. That’s why we didn’t have the year that we should have in 2006; we just didn’t get enough balls in the back of the net.”
Behind Sumter and Kilpatrick is a group lacking experience, but long on potential. Chris Smith and Aaron Strother saw significant action last season off the bench, but will be called upon to do more this season. Offense was the focus of Willis’ recruiting and the addition of playmakers David Peterson and Rodrigo Ramos should give immediate help up front.
In contrast to the forward position, which Willis described as a “question mark” at this point, the midfield is by far the Rattlers strongest position. Back for this season are Bryon Plagge, Francisco Roman, Gabe Martinez and Sumpter.
“Our midfield will be solid,” Willis said. “90 percent of our roster played center midfield in high school and gives us a lot of flexibility. We’re really counting on the midfield to help protect the back line.”
Plagge, a junior from San Antonio, has already established himself as a strong midfielder over his first two seasons with the team. He scored three goals as a freshman and made his lone goal of 2006 count, scoring on a penalty kick to forge a 1-1 tie with St. Edward’s. Roman, a senior from El Paso, looks to continue to improve in his second season with the team after transferring from Eastern New Mexico. Martinez, a senior from San Antonio, came in and made an immediate impact last season, playing in 13 games for the Rattlers.
“Plagge is improving every day,” Willis said. “He has the potential already to be the best player on the field.”
Defense is another area where Willis has confidence. With the return of two of the three starters on the back line, as well as goalkeeper Brett Collier, the Rattlers look to be set in the back.
“I’m confident in our back line, but we lost John Alban, who ran the defense for us last season,” Willis said. “We have depth, we just need to find the right group and we’ll be pretty good.”
Collier, a sophomore from Schertz, burst onto the scene in 2006, taking the starting job in goal. He was one of just two goalkeepers to earn All-Heartland Conference honors last season after posting a 1.37 goals-against average, five shutouts and a school-record 90 saves. With another year under his belt, Collier could be even better, according to Willis.
“Brett is a hard worker and a good kid,” Willis said. “He’s a solid all-around keeper, who moves great. He has the potential to help us get where we want to be.”
Making Collier’s life easier will be a pair of returning starters, Chris Vaughn and Luke Smith. Vaughn, a sophomore from Cibolo, was another freshman who made his mark for the Rattlers last season. He scored two goals and assisted on another, while playing in 15 games as a freshman. Smith, a senior from Kerrville, is one of the most experienced players on the team, playing in 42 games over the last three years. He saw action in 16 games last season for the Rattlers.
“I’m expecting a lot from Luke, both in terms of leadership as one of our captains, and in his play on the field,” Willis said. “He’s a very solid player, but I would like to see him get forward more and be involved more in the attack.”
Kyle Farrell, a sophomore from Edmond, Okla., was a strong contributor off the bench in 2006, who will likely be asked to do more this season. Funmilola Dada, a junior from Houston, also will be asked to step up his play in 2007. Newcomers Robson Prtichett and Daniel Sanguietti will also be among those expected to make an immediate impact this season.
However, for the Rattlers to make their mark as a team in 2007, they will have to overcome a tough early season schedule and battle through the always-strong South Central Region. The key will be to get off to a fast start with an early season home stand, and then try to keep the momentum up for a tough four-game road trip that may ultimately decide if they will advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
They will open the season on Aug. 26 at home against Midwestern State University, one of the top teams in the region. They will then head west to Portales, N.M., for a pair of non-conference matchups with Colorado State University-Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado-Pueblo. They return home for the next three games, before hitting the road for the gauntlet of St. Edward’s University, the University of the Incarnate Word, Eastern New Mexico University and West Texas A&M University in a one-week period. If they can survive that trip intact, the schedule could well favor the Rattlers with return visits from UIW, SEU and WTAMU, as well as the remainder of their Heartland Conference slate.
“The schedule starts tough,” Willis said. “We could play well and be 0-3. The four-game road trip could be a make-or-break situation for us. It will be tough, but if we come out of that strong, it will set us up for success because we have more home games in the second half of the season.”