With less than a month remaining in the regular season, both Davis & Elkins College soccer teams are eyeing successful postseason runs.
As both squads continue to thrive this season, expectations will be high when tournament time rolls around.
The D&E?men are currently 9-2 overall and 4-0 in the West Virginia Conference. The Lady Senators, who suffered their first loss of the season on Sunday, currently sport an 8-1-2 record. They are 3-1-2 in the WVIAC.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Andrew Davis
The Senators’ James Pucci gathers a ball in a recent game at Davis & Elkins College.
"No question, it's an exciting time for Davis & Elkins College soccer," D&E athletic director Ron Palmer said. "Both of our soccer teams have performed very well to this point, but I think the best is yet to come.
"It's the last year of us competing in the WVIAC, so it's nice that we're making some noise on the way out."
The Senator men cracked the Top 20 in this week's NCAA Division II poll, coming in at No. 18.
"We try not to get hung up on the rankings," D&E?men's coach Aron Bassoff said. "But it's nice to be recognized for how well we've done and the strength of schedule we've played."
Bassoff credits his teams' success to what the Senators did last season and during the preseason this year.
"We really put together a good season last year and I think it carried over into this season," he said. "We returned a lot of players from last year's team, and we came in with a lot more maturity."
During preseason action, Bassoff's squad faced four Division I teams - James Madison, Virginia Tech, Marshall and Saint Francis.
"We played those D-I schools in the preseason to challenge ourselves," he said. "We wanted to test our guys and prepare them for the regular season. I think playing all of those teams really helped us get ready."
James Pucci has been key for D&E on the offensive end this season. Pucci currently leads the team in goals with 10.
"After the first couple of games we moved James up the field and it has paid off," Bassoff said. "He's been very consistent for us since we made the move. He's scored a lot of goals and created a lot of other opportunities for other players."
Oliver Bienias, Branko Dugalic and Wyatt Hill have all benefitted from Pucci's play. Bienias has six goals this season, while Dugalic and Hitt have four apiece.
But Bassoff is quick to point out that in order for the Senators to be successful, solid play on both ends of the field is critical.
"We have to be strong on both ends of the field if we want to succeed at this level," he said. "Our defense has really been playing well as of late, especially when it shut out a very good Wesleyan team last week. We've been very good on the back end and our keeper (Moises Oseguera) has also done a nice job for us."
The Senators will be put to the test today when they travel to Charleston to face the No. 9 nationally-ranked Golden Eagles.
"The Charleston game is a big one for us," Bassoff said. "Charleston is a very good team and I'm interested to see how we do. The guys want to prove themselves against teams the caliber of Charleston."
If not for a 2-1 loss to Concord in their last contest, the Lady Senators would be unbeaten entering today's 3 p.m. matchup against Daemen College (N.Y.) at River Bend Park.
"We really let one get away from us on Sunday," D&E women's coach Raul Ovalle said. "We just couldn't seem to get it going against Concord."
But one loss isn't indicative of how the D&E?women have performed this season. The Lady Senators are off to the best start in school history.
"We're really happy with the way we've played this season," Ovalle said. "We have a good mix of seniors and freshmen that have really came together as a unit. We're pleased with what we've done to this point."
Ovalle has been extremely pleased with his team's defense, which has posted six shutout victories this season.
"Our defense has played well," Ovalle said. "It's a very mature unit with three seniors (Allison Dant, Vicky Gustitis and Kayla Petrella) that have been around the system. And our goalkeeper Ashely Winkelspecht has done a phenomenal job for us."
The duo of freshman Taylor Morton and senior Sarah Fyock have provided a steady scoring punch for D&E on the offensive end. Morton has eight goals on the season and Fyock has found the back of the net six times.
"Taylor has been a pleasant addition and an impact player for us," Ovalle said. "She's really complimented Sarah, who was first-team All-Conference player last season. They've been a very good 1-2 combo for us."
Ovalle says that if his team can stay mentally focused down the stretch, great things could happen for the Lady Senators.
"We need to maintain what we're doing and stay focused for the rest of the season," he said. "Hopefully that will happen and we can get into the NCAAs."