An experienced group of returnees, especially on the defensive end combined with a strong group of newcomers, look to help lead the St. Mary’s University Rattlers to their best season in head coach Que Willis’ tenure.

With players such as Brett Collier, Adam Villanueva, Kyle Farrell and Aaron Strother leading the way, the Rattlers have an opportunity to compete, not just for the Heartland Conference Championship, but a spot among the elite of the NCAA South Central Region. But it will be a hard road, with a schedule that rivals any across the nation.

After a season in which the Rattlers scored just 20 goals in 17 games, offense will be the key to the Rattlers success in 2009. St. Mary’s needs to find someone who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net to keep the pressure on the opposition.

The Rattlers lack the depth they have at other positions in the front, but have a solid cast of returnees to lead them this season. Aaron Strother (Sr., McKinney, Texas), Michael Hasbach (So., Colleyville, Texas) and Daniel Kelly (So., Tucson, Ariz.) are all back for this season.

Strother is the veteran of the group, entering his fourth season with the Rattlers. Strother has played in 39 games over the last three years and is one of the acknowledged team leaders.

Kelly showed the promise that convinced Willis to recruit him to St. Mary’s, tying for the team lead with four goals, including one game winner. Hasbach worked his way into the starting lineup over the course of the season and was one of the top freshmen on the team in 2008.

The Rattlers area of greatest depth is in the midfield, where they have five upper classmen back for this coming season. Leading the way are returning starters Joseph Diaz (So., San Antonio), Rodrigo Ramos (Jr., The Woodlands, Texas), Sean Strater (Jr., Carrollton, Texas) and Adam Villanueva (Sr., DeSoto, Texas).

Villanueva, a transfer from West Texas A&M, came in and made an immediate impact last season, earning All-Heartland Conference honors after scoring three goals and dishing out three assists. He also served as one of the team captains in his first season.

Strater had a breakout 2008 season, earning All-Heartland Conference recognition after scoring three goals and adding three more assists in 17 games. In two years he has seen action in 30 games for the Rattlers after an All-American high school career.

Ramos was another player who had a strong second season with the Rattlers, playing in 16 games in the midfield. He scored a goal and added two assists. Diaz became a starter in his first season with the team and led the team with four goals and one assist in 17 games. 

Luis Gonzalez (Jr., El Paso, Texas) and Leonel Nunez (So., El Paso, Texas) also return to the team for the 2009 season, while Adam Muro (Fr., San Antonio) and Aaron Stares (Trophy Club, Texas) join the Rattlers this season.

The defense is anchored by an experienced line that is among the best in the region. The trio of Farrell (Sr., Edmond, Okla.), Robson Pritchett (Jr., McKinney, Texas) and Daniel Sanguietti (Jr., Tucson, Ariz.) have combined to play in 104 games during their respective careers at St. Mary’s.

Farrell is the most experienced of the group, having played in 50 games over the last three years. He has scored three goals and added an assist over that time, helping him to earn All-Heartland Conference honors twice. Last season he played in 17 games and was selected All-Heartland Conference.

Pritchett is in his third season with the Rattlers. He has played in 31 games in his first two years. Sanguietti also is in his third year and has played in 23 games.

The Rattlers have been able to take the field over the last three years, confident that the net is well protected, thanks to Brett Collier (Sr., Schertz, Texas). Collier has played 38 games in his St. Mary’s career, making 168 saves, seven shutouts and a 1.57 goals-against average. He has earned All-Heartland Conference recognition and Heartland Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors four times.

With Collier set to graduate after this season, Willis needed to find a goalkeeper for the future. He found Patrick Kasperitis Jr. (Fr., Corpus Christi, Texas), a three-time All-District 30-4A honoree and District 30-4A Player of the Year from Flour Bluff High School.

The Competition
As if playing in the highly competitive Heartland Conference wasn’t tough enough, Willis upgraded the schedule for the 2009 season. This season St. Mary’s will play three of the four teams that advanced to the NCAA South Central Region Tournament in 2008 and will play three conference champions.

They will hit the ground running with traditional powerhouse Fort Lewis College to open the season on Aug. 28. The Skyhawks went 17-2-3 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2008. After another road game against Mesa State University, the Rattlers will return home to face Our Lady of the Lake University on Sept. 3.

After a trip to Laredo, Texas, to open Heartland Conference play against Texas A&M-International University, the Rattlers will return home for a six-game homestand, their longest homestand since 1994. Included in the homestand will be Midwestern State University, who advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight last season and West Texas A&M University, who went 12-5 in 2008.

After the homestand will come the toughest road trip of the season for the Rattlers who will hit the road for five games, including trips to the University of the Incarnate Word, St. Edward’s University and Midwestern State to start the trip. They will then finish the season with three home games, including rematches against Incarnate Word and St. Edward’s.

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