From AC Athletics/ Gary Stallard
Angelina College’s soccer program has only been around for three years, but in that time both the women’s and men’s teams have made progress. Baby steps are great for young teams.
In 2018, however, the program saw considerably bigger strides, with the Roadrunner women achieving their first-ever national ranking – and qualifying for the conference tournament for the third consecutive season – while the men established a new mark for wins in a season.
Heading into his fourth year at the helm of both teams, Freddy Drago is optimistic his teams can make leaps over baby steps in 2019.
“To be honest, we were pleasantly surprised at our women’s team last year,” Drago said during a recent practice. “We didn’t expect a team so young (nine freshmen) to make such a big jump in just the program’s third year. That was huge. With this year’s team, anything short of challenging for a conference tournament berth is going to be disappointing, especially with the core of players we have returning.
“As for the men, our conference is so tough, by far one of the toughest junior college conferences in the entire country. Friday’s first game will tell us quite a bit. We can measure ourselves from there. If things go right, based on pure talent, the men should be able to make a big jump as well.”
Both teams kick off the regular season Friday at home against Richland College, the defending NJCAA Division III national champions. Those matches will be the perfect measurements for just how ready his squads are for the rigors of play in a brutal conference.
Drago said his men’s team, “one of the most talented overall I’ve ever coached”, got a shot in the arm with an influx of international players. The 2018 season was the first in which the programs were allowed to recruit and sign international players, and Drago said their inclusion helps lift the skill levels for everyone involved.
“The training these kids have had prior to getting here to Angelina College really stands out,” Drago said. “Those players’ training back home is so far advanced from what local players are able to get over here in the United States. A lot of these guys here now have trained at professional academies.
“Their fundamentals, their overall skills and all the other aspects of the game they bring with them is at such a high level, meaning the talent level of our roster is at a higher level this year.”
Those skill levels translate into an entirely different style of play, Drago said.
“Touches. The fewer touches, the better,” Drago explained. “We want to have the ability required to get rid of the ball quicker, and keep the flow moving. These guys are used to that style of game, and they’re going to help our local guys tremendously.