BRADFORD, Pa. – The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford men's soccer team will kick off its 2018 season Friday with a pair of games in the Appalachian Soccer Showcase at Muskingum University.
Pitt-Bradford will open up its season against Bluffton Friday evening before taking on the host Muskies Saturday afternoon.
Head Coach Nathan Whitehurst is entering his third season at the helm of the Panthers men's soccer program. Since taking over the program, the Panthers have increased their win totals each year, starting with his first season in 2016. Last season, Pitt-Bradford entered the final day of the season still with a chance to qualify for the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championship Tournament.
The Panthers will field a near even roster of returners and newcomers, bringing back 13 players from last season and 12 new players.
"The 12 new guys are really going to help us out in practice and with depth," Whitehurst said. "A few of these guys are going to contribute a lot of minutes and help us out during the season."
Leading the way offensively is returning All-AMCC honoree senior Ryuta Hayakawa, who tied for the team lead with three goals a season ago. Also back is junior Ugwunna Amadi, who matched Hayakawa's goal total last season.
"Ryuta is going to help out a lot in the midfield," Whitehurst said. "He's going to help us keep possession and work the ball around."
Joining the duo up front will be sophomores Lucien Kalkhof and Nicholas DiStefano, while freshmen Brent Kennedy (Bradford, Pa.) and Aidan Perez (Beaver, Pa.) will see time on the front line during their first campaigns.
In the middle, Whitehurst will rely on senior Noah Black and sophomore T.J. Magro to lead the way for newcomers Dakotah Graham (Hilo, Hawaii), Alex Lincoln (Cohocton, N.Y.), Sa Hun Kim (Seoul, South Korea), Chase Rider (Feasterville, Pa.) and Jahmaal Buckley (Harlem, N.Y.).
"Aidan and Chase are going to help the team quite a bit right from the start of their careers," Whitehurst said. "Both have had a great preseason. They'll both play on the outside and move around pretty well."
Pitt-Bradford's back line will be bolstered with experience this year, with senior Colin Irwin, juniors Hunter Pennypacker and Michael Giopulos, and sophomores Justin Tanner, J.T. Magro, and Allee Williams.
"This will be Michael Giopulos' third year starting, and as a captain, we'll look to him for leadership on and off the field," Whitehurst said. "The same goes for Noah Black, who is also a captain. He'll be providing the senior leadership this year."
The strong leadership and experience in the back line will provide a strong base for newcomers J.J. Morales (Sierra Vista, Ariz.), Jamari Jackson (Washington, D.C.), Matthew O'Brien (Bradford, Pa.) and Jacob Johnson (Bradford, Pa.).
Senior Derrick Brock is the lone returning goalkeeper for the Panthers. Brock started all 18 matches last season and logged 1649:17 minutes while making 133 saves. He was named AMCC Defensive Player of the Week on Sept 10.
After this weekend, the Panthers will open up their home schedule with Thiel on Labor Day as part of a doubleheader with the women's team.
Two-straight road contests follow before the Panthers open up a three-game non-conference homestand from Sept. 12-18.
A road contest at Mount Aloysius on Sept. 22 will kick off AMCC action before D'Youville comes to the Kessel Athletic Complex on Sept. 25 for the first home AMCC contest.
"Being just a win or two away from qualifying for the AMCC Tournament the last couple years, our goal is to get over the hump and get in this year," Whitehurst said of his team's objective. "And then from there, we're going to see what we can do in the tournament."