It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. We're continuing with Florida Gulf Coast coach, Vinny Valentine.
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During the regular season, you won all the close games. South Florida by two. Duluth by one. Charlotte by two. FAU by one. Finish undefeated. Then the postseason comes along and you lose a couple of close ones in the SELC finals and the first round at nationals. Was it just a matter of some bad bounces or was it just a matter of running to quality opposition? Something else?
Vinny Valentine: We were a tough gritty team last year with great veteran leadership from guys like Jayson Andino, Grant Shafer, Carson Roisum, Bill Watson, Tyler Nash and Christian Cucinotta and many others. They are all guys that have been in the moment before and were able to produce in a big-time way for us.
They helped set the tone and show the young guys how to compete and how to stay the course. That's what got us over the hump in a lot of those close games we had in the regular season. While we did have a historic season going undefeated, I think we forgot what it was like to be behind and make a comeback and that's what came to light in the playoffs.
The end result of last season in the SELC Championship and first-round exit at nationals did not reflect how special that team was. We had so much potential, but found a way to beat ourselves in the end.
When the prospective players show up in the fall looking for a spot on your team, what do you look for? Obviously, talent is a part of the equation, but when you sit down with your staff, what other characteristics make up a guy who is going to make your team?
VV: Talent is obviously a massive part of what everybody is looking for when trying to build a team, but I believe the intangibles are what can turn a good team into a great team.
The No. 1 intangible to me is the camaraderie of the team. I believe our team should be a family of sorts. Now, I'm not mandating everyone to be best friends, but in my eyes, having the guys have a relationship or friendship off the field leads to more productivity on the field.
I also like to see how coachable the individual is. How well do they take advice and criticism? Do they actually try to listen, take the advice and adjust their play no matter how uncomfortable it may be? That goes a long way in my book.
Another big factor I look for is how committed you are to the family and our goals. To be a top team requires a commitment to the craft. If you are not willing to show up each day and put in the work, then what are we even doing?
What role does alumni play with your program?
VV: Being an alumnus myself, I would say we play a very active role in the team. Our coaching staff is made up of four out of five alumni: myself, Jesse Crowel, Mitch Charbonneau and our newest addition of Bill Watson.
We have a growing list of boosters that help fund our season as well as we have a crowd damn near everywhere we go. Like I said, this team is a family.
That's not something that just stops once you graduate. Our alumni game is always a great time and very much looking forward to it this year!
What's the schedule look like? The Eagles have typically stayed in the Southeast. Will that continue, or are there some trips on the docket this spring?
VV: The Eagles will be flying North this year and will do a round robin weekend in Minnesota with Minn.-Duluth, St. Thomas and St. Johns. FAU will be joining that weekend, as well, and I look forward to what the SELC can show the nation that weekend.
As for our other games, we have some more D-I opponents on the schedule in USF and UCF, and the rest of our games come from in our SELC D-II, which are always good, hard-fought games.
We will be ending the Season with FAU and Miami on back-to-back days, which could lead to some fun storylines before heading into playoffs.
Grant Shafer graduates as one of the best goalies that Division II has ever seen. How do you go about trying to find a replacement? Who are some other graduation losses? Who are the FGCU guys we need to know about in '24?
VV: We had one of the largest graduating classes last year losing 11 total guys, all of whom played meaningful minutes. Grant is the most high-profile of this group, but every single one of these guys had a major impact on this team and they will truly be missed.
Grant, Jay, Cuch, Bert, Drewski, Nash, Noah, Carson, Bill, Baz and Trey. I owe these guys everything. They helped keep this program alive during covid and helped us jump right back in like nothing happened. So shoutout to all guys. Love ya’ll!
As for this year, we are a very young team now, only having two seniors and a handful of juniors. It's going to be very exciting to see what some of these young guys can do with their opportunity.
We are going to have another strong group of guys in the mix at the end-of-year awards race at all positions: Max Perez, Colin Blocker, Ethan Jacovides, Chase Edwards, Matt Mickley, Brian Smith, Hunter Davisson, Preston Moon, Max Seigel, Teddy Bissmeyer and many others. We may be young, but we are ready for the fight.
As for who's going to fill the biggest shoes, that remains to be seen. We currently have a strong three-way battle for the starting goalie spot. All three have embraced the challenge and are ready to step up when their name is called.
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