When he talks about the adversity that faces his captains, the men’s soccer team’s head coach George Lidster speaks with a hint of pride.
“They have a hard task,” the coach admits, “but a tremendous will to win.”
Lidster’s captains, senior Jeremiah Burke and junior Matt Davis, are talented players and have been honored with leadership roles because they have proven to be physically tough and, perhaps more importantly, mentally tough.
Adding to the players’ chemistry is the fact that they are actually genetically linked – Burke and Davis are cousins.
Davis said that he chose to play at GW in part because his older cousin hadalready donned the buff and blue.
“We grew up together in the same household,” Davis said. “We are best friends.”
Lidster has described the upcoming season as arduous. The squad has only three regular starters returning from last year and 14 freshmen. In his 19 years at GW, Lidster has never coached a team as young as this.
In addition to the squad’s inexperience, the team has already been crippled by a number of injuries. Sophomore Michael Rollings has been sidelined by a sore back, freshman Nikolay Aleksandrov has suffered a broken jaw and freshman Luke Wildy tore two ligaments in the first game of the season and will miss the rest of the year.
The Colonials have made the NCAA tournament three times under Lidster’s leadership, most recently in 2004. That team, which included both Burke and Davis, faced early difficulties as well, including a 10-game losing streak to open the season. A seven-game winning streak and an Atlantic 10 championship gave the squad an NCAA tournament berth, where they won a game on the road against the University of North Carolina, a soccer powerhouse, in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“We were a unified team (in 2004),” Burke said. He added that team chemistry was an issue last year, but this year’s group seems to have dynamics similar to the 2004 squad.
“This is a young team,” Davis said. “We need the freshmen to play like upperclassmen. College soccer is faster and more physical (than what incoming freshmen are accustomed to), but I expect this team to be great.”
Despite graduating nine seniors, there are still experienced starters to lead the team. Burke and Davis are joined by senior Joseph Siegel, juniors Greg McKay, Thomas Stuber, Joachim Walker and Abimbola Pedro, and sophomores Rollings and David Leon, all of whom started in at least one game last season and were also part of the 2004 team. Junior David McConaghay also appeared in 11 games. Their experience should aid Burke and Davis and provide a guide for the younger players.
When the captains reflect on the approach taken by Lidster, they acknowledge that the 52-year old coach, who said that he selected his two captains because of their light approach to the game, knows how to have fun.
During the 2004 run, Davis remembered warming up before a game by playing kickball.
“Being British, he has a sense of humor,” said Burke with a laugh.
During practices, Lidster and assistant coaches Bryan Davis and Craig Jones make sure that the boys don’t forget to enjoy the moment.
“We work off of one another,” Lidster said. “If I had a serious practice, Bryan or Craig will lighten (the players’ mood) up at the end. I do the same if they have worked the players hard.”
With the lighthearted attitude, Burke and Davis now aim to bring their squad to a familiar place: the victory circle.