It is another year for the students at West Chester University, including numerous changes. Formerly small market Java City has been replaced by superpower Starbucks. There is a giant ram statue in front of the old library to promote school spirit and also numerous new faces of the incoming freshman. Around campus, change is good, and hopefully huge changes will benefit the Golden Rams men’s soccer club.The major change in the world of PSAC soccer is the splitting of the conference into two divisions. Instead of the same conference consisting of nine teams, each playing other interconference squads twice a year, there is instead a PSAC East and a PSAC West. Also, two new clubs have joined the party, powerhouse Gannon University and talented Mercyhurst.
The West Chester Golden Rams opened the 2008 season ranked second overall in the PSAC East division coming off their roller coaster ride 2007 campaign.
Also joining the Rams in the PSAC East are rivals Shippensburg, Kutztown, Bloomsburg, and returning PSAC champions, dominant East Stroudsburg.
The Golden Rams come into this season behind successful coach Kendall Walkes with the same game plan he has always preached: lots of speed, solid defense, and a controlled pace. For Walkes, it is his 19th season at the helm of the soccer team.
The largest hole in the squad going into the year is the void that needs to be filled by the exodus of All-PSAC 1st team sweeper Josh Harris, who graduated. The Rams are looking at transfer students like Nick Basalyga to bring immediate experience to the defense who also lost defensive midfielder Ben Gotwald.
Returning to the Golden Rams defense are last year’s backups, Zach Weaver and senior Sean Babcock. Babcock has logged time for the Golden Rams all three years he has played and looks to play a huge role this season. Babcock may not be as big and able to win balls out of he air like six foot tall Gotwald, but when combined with Weaver, each bring plenty of aggression to the position.
Last year’s offense was run through the Ram’s senior captain Alex Inman, the fastest player on the field and the focal point of Walkes’ game plan to keep the ball wide where Inman could run. With Inman out of the picture the weight of carrying the offense should fall on senior captain Mike Pryor.
Pryor became a starter late in his first year before leading the team in scoring his second year. Last season, Pryor was not as big of a factor in the scorebook that he was expected to be but he created plenty of scoring opportunities as well as freeing his teammates when opposing teams would make him the focal point of their defense. In Pryor’s final season for the Rams, they expect him to leave nothing behind and come up with a big season, leading the Rams offense.
Joining Pryor on the frontline will be last year’s breakout player Ricky Williamson. Now a second year student, Williamson brings a knack for finishing along with his big frame that tends to overpower defenders. Fitting into Walkes’ system as well, Williamson brings speed and finesse. Although filling the holes left by co-captains Inman and Frank DeMas will not be easy, the scoring threats of Pryor and Williamson could be one of the best tandems this team has seen in awhile.
An inconsistent aspect of last year’s team was the goaltending. That problem will be solved with the return of this years co-captain, Garrett Santora. Santora spent most of last year battling injuries. However, late in the season Santora returned to the starting position sparking the team’s last season surge into the playoffs.
To make the playoffs this year, the Golden Rams will need to place either first or second in their division. The schedule does the Golden Rams no favors as they are forced to play nationally ranked Gannon, Mercyhurst, and Lock Haven on the road in their crossover games against PSAC West opponents.
The Golden Rams have a great chance to make the playoffs thanks to their teams talent as well as the talent their rivals have lost. Shippensburg lost their star athlete, PSAC player of the year Geoff Bloes this season. Meanwhile, top ranked East Stroudsburg are without All-PSAC first team player Copeland Lewis.
The ESU Warriors seem to not be missing Lewis to much as they opened their season scoring an impressive 12 goals in their shut out win over Lincoln.
After playing two non-PSAC opponents in their opening weekend the Golden Rams will set their sights on Millersville, a PSAC West squad, Wednesday the 3rd at South Campus Field.
Ken Schmidt is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KS609536@wcupa.edu.