Senior forward Tyler Ranalli has already seen plenty of highs and lows during his time on the men’s soccer team. There was an abysmal three-win campaign his freshman year, followed the next year by an Atlantic 10 trophy, and finally last season’s disappointing 5-13 trudge.
If history holds true, Ranalli is expecting this season to mirror the success his team had two years ago, allowing him to finish his rollercoaster ride at GW on a high note.
“There was a lot of turnover with players and coaches last season, so it was a transition. It made it tough to be successful, but that happens, and we had an unlucky year. That’s all,” said Ranalli, who was named to A-10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team by the website College Sports Madness on Tuesday.
Head coach Craig Jones emphasized that the team was aiming to avoid another transition year and get back to the winning ways of the 2011 A-10 championship squad.
Unlike last year, the Colonials now have a strong core of 15 returning players, including eight starters from last year. Last season, several freshmen were forced to step up, perhaps before they were ready, because of injuries to veteran players.
Jones said he has encouraged the team to scrap for starting spots, as roster competition will bring additional depth to the team in case injuries plague them again.
“There’s going to be competition for places. Maybe an incoming guy will start over a returning guy. That’s the way it goes,” Jones said. “It’s about starting the best player at that moment in time. I do feel that competition for spots is healthy. It can be frustrating for players at times, but that’s what makes programs better.”
Junior defender Andri Alexandersson, who was named the team’s most valuable player last season, will again be the linchpin of the Colonials’ backline. Alexandersson will pair with senior defender Alex Sandland and sophomore goalkeeper Jean-Pierre van der Merwe to form a stingy defensive front. They must get key stops in order to initiate a Colonial offensive attack, which Jones said will rely on speedy fast breaks in the counter-attack.
Alexandersson transferred to GW from Florida International before last season, meaning he has not yet had a taste of A-10 title success. The junior noted that team unity has been the biggest difference this year, adding that he and his teammates have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day in pre-season training to build team chemistry.
“Our job is to do better than last season, and I believe we are already better than last year,” Alexandersson said. “We are an experienced team and we have excellent depth with our newer players. We improved throughout last season and it’s now our job to build on that some more.”
Thus far this season, though it’s still early, the Colonials have been quickly showing improvement. In two exhibition games, they have held on for a scoreless draw against Duke – an Atlantic Coast conference quarterfinal team last year – and a 2-1 victory win over Montgomery College.
GW had previously faced the Blue Devils four times in regular season play and lost every match. Though the offense by both teams was tame – 11-4 shots on goal in favor of Duke – the draw may be a sign of a strong defense that will be the backbone of the team this year.
The match against Montgomery serves as an ideal single game scenario for the Colonials as they approach regular season play. GW did not fall apart after being behind by a goal, limiting Montgomery to only four second half shot attempts, and then benefiting from contributions by their younger players.
The team will play its first regular season match in Fairfax, Va. against American University Aug. 30. Ranalli said players will not take last season’s disappointments with them to the field.
“No one is carrying frustration from last season to this year,” Ranalli said. “It’s just that we went through a tough season, and now these guys are my brothers. We made it through a challenging year. We’ll be better because of it.”