Memphis Soccer Kicks Off Pre-Season Practice
Aug. 15, 2008
MEMPHIS - Mid-80 degree temperatures and a cool breeze greeted the Memphis men's soccer team as they took to the practice field for the first time for two-a-day pre-season training.
"I think this has been the coolest weather we have ever had in Memphis during the pre-season," said head coach Richie Grant. "It has always been a really challenging time of year, and that is not to say that it is not still hot, but it is a lot better than it has been in past years. That has made it a little bit more productive, in terms of getting more energy from the players. It has been great to be back in camp so far."
Head Coach Richie Grant, his staff, and 26 players, new and old, said goodbye to summer and hello to the upcoming soccer season as they got right down to business preparing for the U of M's first pre-season match-up on Saturday night against cross-town competition, in the form of Christian Brothers University.
"It is a super game. We know exactly what to expect from Christian Brothers, it will be a highly competitive match," Grant said. "Clint (Browne) does a great job with his lads. Overall, I just think it is a great game for the city of Memphis and for both of our programs to have in the pre-season. We are very fortunate that we don't have to go far at all to get the type of match that you need in camp."
The match against the Buccaneers will take place at 7 p.m. at Signaigo Field on the CBU campus. Christian Brothers is coming off of a season in which they finished 11-6-2 in Browne's fifth season as the head coach for CBU. The Memphis grad has led the Buccaneers into the Top 25 once and has been named the Gulf South Coach of the Year on two occasions. Fans can keep track of Saturday's game live on Gametracker.
Leading the way for the Tigers into the Christian Brothers match and beyond, will be six seniors who are no strangers to the grueling schedule that comes with playing soccer in Conference USA. Michael Coburn, Sean Goulding, Tripp Harkins, Thomas Hyland, Jordan Lynn and Robert Sausaman, look to bring the Tigers to heights that they have not reached in a while. It has been four years since the U of M's Conference USA title run. Only one member of that squad, Coburn, remains in the Blue and Gray uniforms of Memphis. Entering the season, Grant showed trust and respect for his six seniors by naming all of them team captains.
"We really feel that each one of the seniors deserved the title of captain," Grant said. "They are all very unique individuals and are strong in their own way. However, as a coaching staff, we feel they are actually strongest as a group. As a unit, these six guys can really lead this team in the direction that we want. I think each one of their characters will come through for us at different points throughout the season. These six seniors have been through so much as members of this program. They have played the toughest schedule that this program has ever seen during the last four seasons. They will be a big help with all of the newcomers that we have added to the program."
Coburn, the elder statesman of the Tiger seniors, talked about his role as one of six captains.
"I have really just been trying to help the newcomers and the guys who have been around for the last two seasons by teaching them that it takes a lot of hard work to be the elite team in the conference," Coburn said. "I have been through it before as a part of the 2004 C-USA Championship team. You just need to work hard and the rewards will come after that."
Under the guidance of the six seniors and other experienced Tigers, will be 14 newcomers to the U of M men's soccer program. Two of the newcomers got a head start on their Memphis careers by joining the team during the spring season. Mark Weldon and Harrison Cheatham, both transfers, got to experience what it is like to play for coach Grant and his staff. Joining Weldon and Cheatham, will be 11 freshman and another transfer.
Dale Calvert, a freshman from Indianapolis, Ind., reflected on his experiences so far as a newcomer on the Memphis men's soccer team.
"Practice has been pretty intense during the last two weeks, we have been doing a whole lot of running and different drills. All the hard work will definitely all pay off in the end," Calvert said. "We are coming in here. We are very excited coming in here as freshman. The first scrimmage is coming up tomorrow against Christian Brothers, so things have been pretty intense in practice. We are just ready to go out there and get after it."
Calvert also gave his input on the role the six senior captains have played in helping the newcomers get acclimated to competing as a part of a Division I soccer program.
"The six seniors have been a great help as far as leadership goes," Calvert said. "They have been showing us the ropes, and making it clear that we need to get used to all the new things that we are learning and break into everything fast."
In order to be successful, the Tigers are going to have to beat the best. Grant did not shy away from scheduling tough opponents. Memphis will play four teams during the regular season that were ranked in the NSCAA Pre-Season Top 25; Bradley, Creighton and C-USA rivals, Tulsa and SMU. The Bradley Braves will be the first team that the Tigers take on that will count toward their overall record. Bradley will serve as the regular-season opener for the U of M at the Memphis Diadora Tournament. The Braves are coming off of a season in which they advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals in 2007 before losing to Ohio State.
The 2007 season saw the Tigers finish the season in fifth place in Conference USA, with a record of 10-5-4. They return three all-conference honorees. Coburn was named to the C-USA Second Team and Goulding was named to the C-USA Third Team. Sophomore Ryan Ruble, the team's leading goal scorer, was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team.
The Tigers will continue pre-season practice with two-a-days up until the U of M's final exhibition match against pre-season NSCAA ranked opponent, Saint Louis University on Saturday, Aug. 23 in St. Louis. Tiger fans can also catch the team when they play an inter-squad game in a Blue vs. Gray match-up at Mike Rose Stadium on Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.