Despite having one of the best seasons in program history, West Virginia men’s soccer weren’t able to accomplish what they set out to do. After bringing home the MAC title, the Mountaineers’ postseason run was stopped short after a 1-0 loss on the road against Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
While the loss itself was disappointing, Coach Marlon LeBlanc has a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to his team’s seeding — or lack thereof — despite a top resume in the nation.
“We felt like we should have been a seeded team in the NCAA Tournament last year, but for whatever reason, we weren’t given that, as the MAC Champion of the third-best league in the country,” LeBlanc explained. “Third-best league in the country, and the champion that went undefeated in that league didn’t get seeded with 13 wins. Go figure that one out.”
This is a ripe opportunity for sour grapes, but with almost all of last year’s squad still intact, they used that as inspiration for this season. In fact, they don’t even blame they powers that be, but rather themselves for not proving enough that they deserved to be there.
Because of that, they set their goal right after the final whistle in their loss to Georgetown: next year, they would be playing that game in Morgantown.
“That will be a result of what we do every single game, all the way through, and [the players] know that,” LeBlanc continued. “And so the hopes are that mentally they’ve kept that picture in their mind, physically there’s a standard we have set…but for us, it’s more about the mentality.”
A team’s mentality begins in the locker room, and with an invaluable amount of experience in that of West Virginia’s, the squad is confident they will be able to achieve their goals.
“We have a really strong senior class this year,” said Ryan Kellogg, a senior defender. “[Fans and the media] see what’s on the field but we have a lot of really good locker room guys within this class, so I think that having seven very strong guys both on the field and locker room guys, I don’t think leadership will ever be a problem.”
While many of last year’s starters will return, one glaring loss is that of Joey Piatczyk, who LeBlanc calls the best set-up man in program history. After leading the team with 8 goals and 10 assists, the midfielder was selected in the 4th round of the MLS SuperDraft by New York Red Bulls.
“I was thinking about calling Joey and giving him a different number and sneaking him by the NCAA,” LeBlanc joked.
While a player of Piatczyk’s caliber is irreplaceable, LeBlanc is confident that his team will find other ways to generate offense. The Mountaineers’ attack is a collective, he says, with 10 of last year’s 12 goal scorers returning for 2019.
Before the Mountaineers can even think about the postseason, though, they need to take their season one game at a time, which LeBlanc says is the only thing on his mind at the moment starting with their opener against Monmouth.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got a different approach and it’s just to be 1-0….it’s not about the NCAA Tournament, ” LeBlanc said. “By the time the Monmouth game is over, win or lose, we’re trying to be 1-0 in the next game.”
Changing his squad’s mentality from the big picture to taking that single-step approach has been something LeBlanc and his staff have worked on over the last couple years, and he says the end result should take care of itself if the players buy in.
The Mountaineers get their first crack at this season Friday at 4 p.m. when Virginia Tech visits for an exhibition game. Their season officially kicks off on Aug. 30 when they travel to Monmouth for their opener.