LMU men’s soccer excited to begin preparation for 2018

Published 12:45 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

HARROGATE, Tenn. — Every four years the upcoming season seems like it takes longer than usual to arrive.

It’s been one of those summers for the Lincoln Memorial University men’s soccer team as World Cup matches filled mobile devices and televisions across the country.

Now that the World Cup hype is over, insert the Railsplitters’ 2018 season.

“I don’t need any extra encouragement, but years that we play the World Cup it infuses the players, since we have so many players from all over the world,” head coach Helio D’Anna said. “In our soccer culture, these are special years. I can flat-out tell you the players are pumped, and I am.”

The anticipation is now on countdown mode.

On Monday, players began reporting to Harrogate for volunteer workouts, and in a week the Railsplitters will be back to full speed for their first official practice on Aug. 8.

It’ll soon be time for the 2018 squad to lace up its cleats and don its uniforms for the first time as the Railsplitters welcome Erskine to kick off the season at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 30.

But before that first match, D’Anna wants to get a little taste of what this group, consisting of 16 returning players and 13 newbies — including freshmen, transfers and graduate student-athletes — is about in two home scrimmages.

The first will be Aug. 19 against a club team from Chattanooga, and then a second with a top-25 Division III program in Maryville College slated for Aug. 25.

“Individually, you are looking at so many positions — midfielders, defenders and forwards — and each and every area on the field would be a different answer,” D’Anna said, “but when we go through the preseason we have individual meetings because then you have enough information to say, ‘Hey, this is your biggest challenge to get better so you can get to point A to point B.’”

Preseason scrimmages are a much-needed observation that the veteran coach and his staff use to tweak one small detail or a missed assignment before regular-season play.

It’s a method that pays large dividends when LMU dips into its demanding nonconference schedule backed with a no-days-off mentality of a South Atlantic Conference slate.

Before two years ago when the NCAA implemented an automatic bid for the conference winner, there was no such thing. Even with the win you’re in scenario now in play, D’Anna hasn’t backed off the tough competition.

It’s years like last year, where the Railsplitters didn’t win the conference, but won tough non-conference matchups that found LMU in the NCAA Super Region 4.

D’Anna intends to keep the nail-bitters lined up.

“There’s really not one game that isn’t important,” he said. “There’s no such thing as, ‘All right we are going to use the first few games to prepare for conference.’ Forget it, they are already regional games. It’s pressure immediately.

“Yeah, there’s a side of me that wishes we had a couple of games we could let the kinks work themselves out. In my world, it’s called preseason scrimmages. Immediately I already have games if I don’t win, it’s not like it seals the deal, but it might come back to haunt us towards the end so every game is a battle.”

The seasoned coach is using his losses from a year ago — a group he calls ones where good programs should lose every season if its doing things right — and replacing them with returners and high-IQ athletes coming in to direct the program through the gritty matches.

D’Anna says all those players will contribute immediately, where some will catch on quicker than others. Even if it takes a practice or half way through the season for certain individuals, the end result for every Railsplitter remains the same.

And how the LMU 2018 squad gets there is in the foreseeable future.

“We made nationals; we were top 25 and had a winning season, but we felt we gave too many goals and didn’t score enough goals,” said D’Anna of the 2017 season. “Many of those games were overtime or too close for comfort. The goal is to give up a little less and score more.

“As a team, we were due to win the conference. We’ve been hitting the post, so to speak, and runner-up two years ago and lost in the semi-finals this last season, as a team we really want to win the conference. If we make the nationals without winning the conference, it’d be successful but this generation is due to win the conference.”