KNIGHTDALE — Last season was one that Knightdale soccer coach Andrew Vaglio doesn’t want to forget, but isn’t necessarily proud of. After finishing last season 8-10-3 and falling just short of the playoffs, the fifth-year coach knows how much one goal or one save can change a season.
“If we had just stopped or scored one more, we would have been near the top of the conference and in the playoffs,” Vaglio said. “So my job is to make sure they understand how important games late in the season are, but we also don’t want to get off to a bad start.”
After two scrimmages to open the season against Rocky Mount and Smithfield-Selma, the Knights officially begin their season against Enloe on Monday, the first of four straight nonconference games against the CAP-8 conference.
Key Players: Seniors Chris Clifford and Taylor Betts will be expected to hold down the center midfielder positions. Betts has been named All-Conference three years straight and was named the team’s MVP last season.
The seniors have shown the ability to not only score but also distribute points, which could pay dividends for a team that needs leaders to step up.
“We’ve got some great players on this team … with Chris and Taylor being our top returning seniors,” Vaglio said. “But we can’t expect them to play all 80 minutes of the game every game, so we’ll be developing some reserves throughout the season.”
On the defensive end, juniors Andreas Adell and Nate Gage are also expected to lead the otherwise young team.
Strengths and weaknesses: The team’s youth could potentially hinder the Knights early in the season. With seven freshmen joining the team this year and no junior varsity squad, Vaglio faced the tough task of acquainting his new players to the game.
“This is an extremely different soccer team,” Vaglio said. “We have two groups of players – varsity-caliber players and freshmen who haven’t experienced high school soccer at any level. But that will never be used as an excuse because we know what we’re capable of.”
If a coach can be considered a strength, Vaglio definitely is one. Vaglio has experienced a similar situation as the varsity baseball coach, with 11 seniors departing after the 2012 season and integrating several freshmen and sophomores into the team.
“Being young just means that I have to have them ready a little more quickly than I’m usually comfortable with,” he said. “Our freshmen would make a dynamite JV team, but we need them to perform well on the varsity squad. The talent is there, but it’ll definitely be an eye-opener for them.”
Strength of schedule: The Knights kick the season off with four straight nonconference games against the likes of Enloe, Millbrook and Wakefield. The three combined to outscore Knightdale by a total of 27-7 last season and the Knights face Enloe twice again this season.
But Vaglio plans to focus more on the conference matchups, calling the games against the CAP-8, “preseason games that should test us.”
The Knights start the Greater Neuse River Conference schedule with five of their first six games at home, including games against Clayton, Garner and West Johnston, three teams that finished ahead of them last season.
If the Knights plan on finishing near the top of the GNRC, they will need to win some of those early contests and take care of rival East Wake as well, who they tied with in both games last season.
“We don’t have the softest schedule opening up against the CAP-8, which I believe is the toughest conference in the state,” Vaglio said. “Those East Wake games hurt us last season and hindered what we were trying to accomplish. But I think we stand a chance to do well in the conference and hopefully we won’t let that happen again.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith