CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's soccer team will have a new look to it in 2018, with 31 new faces on the 42-man roster, and Charles Long now manning the sidelines in his first year as head coach.
Long takes over for James Ross, who is coaching the women's soccer program at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, and takes over a program that is coming off of back-to-back KJCCC West titles. The T-Birds will take aim at the three-peat this fall, using their talented depth to help stem the tide as new pieces find their respective roles.
"As a group, the men's team is very strong. It's going to be a challenge for me to narrow the roster and our lineup down," Long said.
Cloud County, which finished 14-3 overall last season and garnered votes in the NJCAA DI Men's Soccer preseason poll, returns a number of key defensive pieces from last season, including its two top goalkeepers in Charles Albuquerque and Kegan Lammering.
Lammering was 2-0 with a 1.49 goals against average in a backup role last season, while Albuquerque finished his freshman season with a 12-3 mark. He limited opponents to a .93 goals against average and made 75 saves on the season.
"We have two amazing goalkeepers returning in Kegan and Charles," Long said. "I think with them and the back line, with some returning guys like our captains Feliphe Pasetto, Baptise Bissessur and Wanes Hobat, we're solid."
The challenge for the T-Birds in 2018 will be finding new scoring options following the departures of their top eight goal scorers last season, including NJCAA Second-Team All-American, Luiz Garcia. Garcia scored 20 goals and tallied six assists as a sophomore.
"The graduation of Luiz Garcia is a massive hole to fill," Long said. "We're going to need to be able to control the ball in the back, control games. One of our strengths is passing the ball and moving it quick. We just need to be better at putting the ball in the back of the net. But we'll get it worked out."
Cloud County begins the 2018 season at 7 p.m. Wednesday night on the road against Iowa Lakes Community College before returning to Concordia for its home opener at 4 p.m. Monday against Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa.
The T-Birds then kickoff September with a challenging back-to-back against nationally ranked opponents, No. 19 Marshalltown and No. 12 Indian Hills. The two games will be on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 in Ottumwa, Iowa and will provide a good measuring stick before the T-Birds jump into Region VI action.
"It's good to have these kinds of challenges against good teams," Long said. "Those two games back-to-back will give us a good sense of where we're at as a team and what we need to work on."
As for where the T-Birds expect to finish?
"My goal is always to finish in the top-four of the conference, make the playoffs and then handle business in the playoffs," Long said. "It's going to be a fight inside the KJCCC West. It's a battle, but that's what makes it exciting."