By Colby Lanham
CLEMSON, S.C. - The Clemson men’s soccer team, led by fifth-year head coach Mike Noonan, looks to continue its success from 2013. The Tigers finished with an overall record of 11-7-3, 5-4-2 in conference play, while also advancing to the ACC semifinals and the NCAA Tournament. This year, graduate student and Myrtle Beach, S.C. native Bobby Belair and senior Phanuel Kavita, a native of Salt Lake, City, Utah will lead the Tigers as team captains for the 2014 season.
“It’s an honor to be captain of this team,” Belair said about his role. “There are a lot of guys who’ve been in this program for a long time, so it’s great to be wearing that captain badge. I have to be a role model, on and off the field. It’s really about the little things, doing those things right to set an example for the younger guys coming up.”
When asked about the program’s success on the field last season, Belair contributes it to the growth and maturity of the program under Noonan.
“I think last year was great because Coach Noonan finally got the pieces of the puzzle coming together and we were able to link it all together on the field,” Belair said.
“A lot of it has to do with growth. It was a very mature team last year and we have a very mature team this year. We have a lot of experience on this team as well, and a lot of leaders, but we also have quite a few new faces. We’re looking forward to the leaders stepping up and showing the new faces how it’s done.”
One of those leaders includes fellow captain Phanuel Kavita, who was a co-captain alongside Thomas McNamara during the 2013 season. Kavita, like Belair, attributes last season’s success to the team’s leadership and maturity. And despite the departure of senior leadership from last season, Kavita likes the initiative and drive he sees from the team heading into the season.
“Last year was a great experience, we went further than we’ve ever been before. And we had a lot of seniors graduate from last year (Thomas McNamara, Jack Metcalf, Alex Stockinger, Wes Nelson). This year’s new team has maturity and a lot of leadership, and it’s exciting to see the willingness to work hard. The new guys coming in and the talent we have is amazing.”
While the 2014 team loses some experience from last year’s squad, Belair and Kavita both have confidence and praise for the incoming talent and returning experience to help pick up where the graduating seniors left off.
“It’s hard to replace those you were close with, but the new talent we have coming in is awesome, and it pushes us that much further,” Kavita said about the team’s new makeup. “They’re very coachable, which makes it easier on everybody else, and the other guys have worked hard and are continually working hard, so it’s exciting.”
Belair and Kavita also have confidence that once the pieces of the puzzle come together, this team has a shot to be just as successful, if not more so, than last year’s team.
Prior to the start of the regular season, the Tigers play two exhibition games. Clemson kicked off the season last Saturday night with a 2-0 win over UAB, and the team travels to UNC Asheville this Saturday, Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. The Tigers officially open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 29 when they host Radford at Historic Riggs Field at 7 p.m.