"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

No. 18 men’s soccer looks toward a fresh start

The team hopes to put last year’s early exits from the postseason behind them
Katie Romhilt
Junior striker Roald Mitchell shoots the ball during an NCAA tournament match against Ohio State.

As the start of the new semester approaches, a new Wake Forest men’s soccer season is also getting closer. The previous season saw many highs — including being ranked the No. 1 team in the country by the United Soccer Coaches poll around the midway point of the season — but also many lows, with early exits in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments to Clemson and Ohio State, respectively. This year, the Demon Deacons will look to build on the promise shown at various points last season.

Wake Forest will begin the season ranked No. 18 in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches Poll. This has them set as the sixth-highest ranked team in the ACC, behind No. 1 and defending national champion Syracuse, No. 4 Duke, No. 5 University of Pittsburgh, No. 9 Clemson and No. 15 Virginia. 

Star Power 

The Demon Deacons will return some top talent to their roster, including star forward Roald Mitchell, who was named to the United States U-20 Youth National Team roster for their January camp. The New York Red Bulls academy prospect was Wake Forest’s top scorer, with seven goals and four assists, which led him to an All-ACC Second-Team selection along with his national team call-up. Also returning is winger Sidney Paris, who was also on the international stage this offseason, playing on the Puerto Rican national team for their CONCACAF Nations League matches. His performances in the tournament were rewarded with a selection into the Nations League Best XI.

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Wake Forest made a couple moves in the transfer portal as well, with one player leaving and one player joining the squad. Midfielder Omar Hernandez, known for his excellent free kicks, departed from Wake Forest after his senior season for the Mercer Bears. The incoming transfer is sophomore midfielder Camilo Ponce from Boston College. Ponce was a United Soccer Coaches High School All-American, scoring 17 and assisting 18 prior to joining Boston College. Coach Muuss, in a GoDeacs article, states that he is a “skilled quality playmaker,” and the Demon Deacons will use him to “bolster the attack.” Ponce recorded one goal and three assists during his freshman year at Boston College and will look to bolster a strong Demon Deacon midfield in the upcoming season. 

Wake Forest also added a strong recruiting class to the 2023 roster, headlined by four-star, 56th-ranked recruit Pranav DuBroff. The defender has previously been called up to United States youth national teams, played in the FC Dallas Academy and was a big part in the 2019 FC Bayern Adidas Cup Championship with the United States team. 

The team also added multiple three-star recruits — midfielder Jeffrey White from Florida, midfielder Jose Perez from Illinois, goalkeeper Jonah Mednard from New York, and defender Travis Smith Jr., who was the recipient of the 2022-23 Gatorade Kentucky Player of the Year. Last, but certainly not least, the Demon Deacons added Winston-Salem native Liam O’Gara to the freshman class. The forward attended Mount Tabor High School and played for the prestigious North Carolina Fusion club team.

Three Demon Deacons to watch out for this season are junior striker Roald Mitchell, senior midfielder Hosei Kijima and senior defender and team captain Garrison Tubbs. 

Mitchell lit up the scoring charts during his sophomore season and will only look to improve on a season that landed him Second Team All-ACC honors. The junior has all the attributes of a great modern striker — speed, strength both in the air and with the ball at his feet, great movement off the ball and a strong finish. He captured many headlines last season, including a hat-trick against Winthrop and a highlight-reel scissor kick against Fairleigh Dickinson. The striker will look to continue his scoring form in the coming season.

Kijima’s junior season ended early last year with an injury against Duke that cut a promising season short. Before the injury, the midfielder had three goals and an assist through the Demon Deacons’ first 10 games. But it wasn’t just his attacking output that the team missed, Kijima was instrumental in both possession and the press for the Wake Forest midfield, excelling in linking the defense and attack in Coach Muuss’s possession system. He always brought energy for the Demon Deacons to defend well up the field and win the ball back in the attacking half often. Now, after recovering from his injury, the senior will look to conclude his time at Wake Forest with a successful season.

Hosei Kijima is pictured in a game against NC State (OGB Archives).

Tubbs, a two-time team captain, is the anchor of a strong defensive line, manning the center back position. The defender was named to the United Soccer Coaches Defenders to Watch List for the 2023 season and is one of the top defensive prospects in the Atlanta United academy. Tubbs was the rock in an excellent defensive unit that kept eight clean sheets last season, but what impressed me most was his composure and leadership. The defender was seemingly immune to pressure last year, constantly able to play around the press with ease. He also has an exquisite passing range, an increasingly essential aspect in a modern day center back. 

Furthermore, he is a true leader that the team seems to rally around. Despite starting further back than most everyone on the pitch, Tubbs was always one of the first to join in an exuberant celebration when a teammate scored. The team returned the favor on a couple of occasions, as Tubbs had two game-winning goals last season. Now, having had the experience of being captain for a year, Tubbs will look to elevate this team to even higher levels than ever before.

Long Road to Glory

The first official match of the season will take place on Thursday, Aug. 24, when Wake Forest will host Grand Canyon University at the Spry. Three days later, they will host the University of California. 

The first big test in an official match will take place on Sept. 1, when the Demon Deacons travel to College Park to take on No. 14 Maryland. The four-time national champions also had an early exit in the NCAA Tournament last season, losing in the second round to Cornell.

The Demon Deacons will begin conference play with one of the more difficult schedules. For its first ACC match, Wake Forest will travel to face  2022 NCAA Tournament semi finalist No. 5 Pittsburgh on Sept. 9. 

The next ACC match could provide the toughest challenge of the season, when the Demon Deacons host the defending national champions and the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Syracuse, on Sept. 16. The very next weekend they will host the 2021 National Champions,No. 9 Clemson, who eliminated the Demon Deacons from the ACC Tournament last season. If Wake Forest can get through these matches with wins, they could look very well poised for a run to the National Championship this year.

The conference schedule seemingly lightens up after this, with away matches Boston College and NC State following the tough three-match opening. The Demon Deacons’ last two home games of the year will come against North Carolina and Notre Dame. Wake Forest will end the regular season with an exciting matchup away at Louisville, who received seven preseason top-25 votes of their own.

The season promises to bring many exciting, competitive and intense games, and the Demon Deacons will have to continue to navigate this in pursuit of a second national championship for the program.

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