Charlotte, NC - Entering the program's third season of play, the Johnson & Wales University men's soccer team will enjoy the luxury of returning 16 players, including 10 starters, as they take aim at the program's first USCAA National Championship berth.
Head coach James Drzewiecki has added eight newcomers to a core group that has won two-thirds of their matches since the program was added in 2015 to the Charlotte campus.
"It's typically the third year you see a new program come into its own, and I think we have the pieces to make a serious run at nationals," he said. "Our assistant, Kev Summers, did a great job in helping identify a recruiting class that can help push us to a new level. Now we have some veteran leaders we can start to lean on, and we are stronger and deeper across the board than we have been at any point in the past. The potential is there."
The Wildcats have 18 matches on the books, including six against USCAA opponents. Highlights include a Sept. 21 tilt at 2016 USCAA National Championship qualifier Penn State Brandywine and an Oct. 21 match against defending NCCAA National Champions Bob Jones University at the OrthoCarolina Sportsplex.
"It's a good, balanced schedule," said Drzewiecki. "As our reputation is starting to grow, we're getting access to some opponents that maybe we didn't have before. It should be a fun season."
Johnson & Wales will open play on Aug. 25 at NAIA affiliate University of Pikeville. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.
The position remains relatively unchanged, as senior Kennedy Little and juniors John Lowes and Andrew Sanchez return for the Wildcats. Little and Lowes split the lion's share of the minutes in 2016, with Lowes making six starts and Little making five for Johnson & Wales. Between the three, the Wildcats posted a 2.00 goals against average.
Drzewiecki and Summers spent the bulk of the offseason looking to strengthen the team at the center back position, but will immediately turn to a familiar face in junior JT Fucci to lead the group. Fucci started every game for the Wildcats and finished with four goals on the season. Fellow junior Ariel Morales and sophomore Gunner Tootle were regular starters at outside back for Drzewiecki and will be expected to build on their experience, while sophomore Shawn Geiger will provide depth at the position.
Newcomers Danny Kearney and Gavin Brundidge will partner with Fucci at center back and have earned praise early in the preseason for their play. Tusculum transfer Chance Wiginton can play anywhere across the backline and will be counted on to push for a starting role while freshman outside back Connor Savageau will look to do the same.
The Wildcats will rely on a trio of returners to spearhead their efforts this season, with juniors Mo Baskaron and Sam Fanning partnering with sophomore standout Jason Rosales. Another junior, Iseiah Washington, has enjoyed a strong preseason and may be primed to push for heavier minutes in 2017, while senior Pablo Morera and sophomore Chris Garcia are versatile players and can be deployed in numerous roles throughout the midfield.
Junior Jalen Jackson headlines a group that features three returners and two new faces. The Kannapolis native has led the program in goals and assists in each of the past two years and will be counted on as a primary threat for the Wildcats heading into the new season. Sophomores Imani Washington and Tito Villanueva both saw significant time in 2016, combining for seven goals and five assists.
Freshman Weeb Isaac has shown the ability to be a difference maker for the Wildcats in limited action while fellow classmate Carlos Perez will look to establish himself as an effective target forward for the squad.
2017 JWU-CHARLOTTE MEN'S SOCCER ROSTER
DEFENDERS (8) – JT Fucci (Medford, NY/ Patchogue-Medford); Ariel Morales (Charlotte, NC/ Mallard Creek); Gunner Tootle (Swansboro, NC/ Swansboro); Shawn Geiger (Columbia, SC/ A.C. Flora); Chance Wiginton (Franklin, TN/ Franklin); Gavin Brundidge (Benson, NC/ West Johnston); Danny Kearney (Key West, FL/ Key West); Connor Savageau (Cornelius, NC/ Hough)
MIDFIELDERS (8) – Pablo Morera (Charlotte, NC/ Charlotte Catholic); Mo Baskaron (Matthews, NC/ Butler); Sam Fanning (Indian Trail, NC/ Porter Ridge); Iseiah Washington (Okinawa, Japan/ Kubasaki); Jason Rosales (Statesville, NC; CCTL); Chris Garcia (Monroe, NC/ Monroe); Seth Furman (Mooresville, NC/ Lake Norman); Sanjin Kostic (Lawrenceville, GA/ Central Gwinnett)
FORWARDS (5) – Jalen Jackson (Kannapolis, NC/ A.L. Brown); Tito Villanueva (Gastonia, NC/ Hunter Huss); Imani Washington (Okinawa, Japan/ Kubasaki); Weeb Isaac (Harrisburg, NC/ Hickory Ridge); Carlos Perez (Charlotte, NC/ South Mecklenburg)