SOUTH PRINCE GEORGE, Va. -- Richard Bland College will defend its NJCAA Division I, Region X Men's Soccer Tournament Championship from last fall, looking to add a regular season title this fall, as well. Fourth-year head coach Eduardo de Souza returns seven lettermen, as he and second-year assistant coach Nick Surkamp have added a talented group of 18 newcomers to the program. The Statesmen completed 2016 with the finest season in the four-year history of the program, posting a final overall record of 12-7-2, including their first-ever Region X Tournament Championship and advancing to the Southeast District semifinals.
Richard Bland will open the 2017 season against Region X member USC Lancaster this Thursday, August 24, at 3 p.m. The match will be played at Ukrop Park located at 5300 Ridgedale Parkway … at the intersection of Chippenham Parkway and Route 10 in Chesterfield County. Ukrop Park serves as the home of the Richmond Kickers Youth Soccer Club.
"Every year our mentality as a team is winning the Region X Championship," explained de Souza. "This year, we not only want to win the tournament, but the regular season. We have a very solid team with players that can play more than one position, providing more solutions for myself and Nick in balancing our group.
"Defending our Region title is always important because it shows that Richard Bland Men's Soccer is growing strong every season and our confidence is stronger."
Richard Bland opens the campaign with first-year team members battling for playing time at the forward position. They include freshmen Umar Mujahid/Meherrin, Romeo Kayizali/Kigali, Rwanda, Uziel Hernandez/The Villages, Florida and Ervin Ikanovic/Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ikanovic was named the Pinellas County (Fla.) Player of the Year by the Tampa Bay Times last fall at Northeast High School.
"Umar, Romeo, Uziel and Ervin will be fighting for starting positions," said de Souza. "They have lots of talent and can change the game at any moment."
An experienced midfield will provide the squad a definite advantage this year. Sophomores Dusan Stankovic/Belgrade, Serbia, Hussein Osman/Charlottesville and Danny Torres/Bucaramanga, Colombia return for the Statesmen. They're joined by sophomore transfer Jamie McAvoy/Ayr, Scotland, along with freshmen Davi Girardi/São Paulo, Brazil, David Negrin/Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, Kaleb Kelly/Leesburg, Florida, Aldai Pozo/Stafford and John Vasquez/Leesburg, Florida. Stankovic earned All-Region X First Team after starting 20 matches last fall and is the team's leading returning scorer after posting six goals and four assists totaling 16 points. Osman started 13 contests and is the second leading returning scorer with three goals and four assists for 10 points in 2016. Torres was named All-Region X Honorable Mention after starting nine matches and posted one goal with two assists and four points. McAvoy started four matches at NCAA Division II Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina last year.
"Dusan, Hussein and Danny bring their very important experience in the league," said de Souza. "Jamie will contribute right away, Davi has great ability to help our strength in the midfield, David will bring game IQ and speed together with Kaleb, while Aldai and John are both promising midfielders."
The defense is expected to once-again be solid for the program after posting seven shutouts last season. Freshmen Vandyke Gyau/Alexandria and Nikola Aleksic/Belgrade, Serbia will anchor the unit, and will be joined by returning sophomores Finn Busse/Kiel, Germany, Agustin Vassallo/Neuquen, Argentina and Andrew Skaer/South Riding, sophomore transfer Alex Vazquez/Chester, as well as freshmen Max Turner/Christchurch, England and twins Ajahli Challenger/Chesterfield and Tuali Challenger/Chesterfield. Busse started 13 matches a year ago with two assists. Vassallo started five contests, while Skaer started four matches with one assist. Vazquez started 14 matches (one goal, two points) at Division III Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania last fall.
"Vandyke has been with us since last spring and shows the potential to not only be one of the strongest defenders in the region, but one of the strongest in the NJCAA," stated de Souza. "Nikola will be an extremely important addition next to Vandyke on the backline. Finn, Agustin, Andrew, Max and Alex will all be competing for spots as the outside back, and any of them will be competent when their name is called upon to step into the starting role. Ajahli and Tuali will be competing for a spot at the center back role and their strengths have already been seen through preseason. They have already come a long way and it will be fun to watch these two as they continue to develop!"
Sophomore Tomás Fonseca/Torres Vedras, Portugal returns at the goalkeeping position, where he started seven matches in 2016, playing 653 minutes while allowing 11 goals (1.52) with 18 saves (.621) and two shutouts. He'll be joined by freshmen Almir Menezes/São Paulo, Brazil and Seth Perez/Fruitland Park, Florida.
"Tomás returns as our starter this fall," said de Souza. "Almir and Seth will look to push Tomás and gain that role as the team's number one throughout the season."
Richard Bland has an 18-match schedule this fall, including 14 Region X regular season contests, highlighted by two games each against defending regular season champion Louisburg (N.C.) College, runners-up Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) College and third-place Patrick Henry Community College. The Statesmen will play 10 matches at home, including non-region contests against Harcum (Pa.) College, the College of Southern Maryland and USC Sumter. RBC will play a road game at NCAA Division III North Carolina Wesleyan College, as well. The complete schedule is available online at rbcathletics.com.
"Our region is the toughest in the country within NJCAA Division I," said de Souza. "Every year the competition is harder, forcing our team to always prepare to face adversity and strive for excellence. We need to take points away from every match to finish at the top of the region."
While the season-opening match will be played off-campus, Richard Bland is scheduled to play its first home match on the recently renovated Statesman Soccer Field against Region X opponent Wake Technical (N.C.) Community College on August 31 at 3 p.m. This summer, the field was graded and leveled, while an irrigation system was installed before the sprigging of Bermuda grass toward a new playing surface for this season.
"It's great to have the proper surface," added de Souza. "This is very good for all of our student-athletes and the coaching staff to work on a nice field every day."