We’ll be saying goodbye this year to an irreplaceable senior class, but the group behind this year’s seniors could be just as crucial. The Carolina roster currently includes 6 juniors: Alex Walters, Josh Rice, Chipper Root, Daniel Tannous, Andy Craven, and Rob Lovejoy. There could be additions in the next year due to transfers, which are handled much more liberally by the NCAA in soccer than in most other college sports. Any transfers will likely be impact players, but even if there are no transfers in the next year, the Tar Heels of 2013 shall depend on the present juniors for a successful season, just as did the Tar Heels of 2012.
The Carolina strike force features Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy almost every match. They’ve started together every match since Lovejoy’s return from injury, and before then Craven started almost every game after he was passed healthy.
Craven was a sophomore transfer to Carolina, and he was the very epitome of the College soccer impact transfer. As a sophomore he got on an impressive scoring tear immediately after his transfer, and as a junior in 2012 he led the team with 6 goals alongside 5 assists. His talents progressed at the end of the season from a pure 3 touch striker into a prolific hold up man and dribbler. In soccer the classical striker is a player expected to receive the ball ahead of the attack and keep it until his comrades can catch up to the play. In the ACC and NCAA Tournaments Craven provided the Heels with an escape whenever they were under pressure. When the Heels won the ball at the back, they could always pass it up the field to Craven, who would keep it until the Tar Heel attackers could move forward and release the pressure. He also found his dribbling boots in the NCAAs, and at times his runs on the defense were shocking in their sheer daring skill. Just when one thought that Craven was giving the ball away, he’d jump past another pair of defenders.
Rob Lovejoy is a player who is expected to be a real talisman in his senior year. He came in halfway through his junior season and immediately set the team alight with a hat trick against College of Charleston. This was surprising to no one, as Lovejoy had been a staple in the 2011 team. A lightning-quick winger, Lovejoy has the invaluable ability to beat anyone off the dribble. This kind of winger is absolutely crucial to success in a 4-3-3, which invariably deploys two wingers in each squad. A return of 5 goals and 2 assists in only half a season will have fans’ mouths watering for his contribution to next season’s squad.
Josh Rice and Chipper Root may not have been headliners this year, but they both proved to be the kind of super subs that can take a good team into the realm of an elite team. Root was a highly touted recruit who transferred this year from South Carolina. He managed a goal from just 9 appearances, but none of them were starts. Rice had just 5 appearances and had only an assist to his name, but each time he was subbed on he changed the game with his energy. Rice is a quick and strong striker, and Coach Somoano deployed him on a number of occasions when the Tar Heels didn’t have the territorial advantage in the game and needed to be fired up. Against Maryland in the ACC Final he came on and gave the Heels some much needed moxy, which allowed them to get back into the game.
Daniel Tannous was a valuable defensive deputy, making 12 appearances and having 3 starts. The measure of a defender’s merit is in clean sheets, and the fact that we largely didn’t notice his inclusion stands as proof that he filled in well. Had he not, we would notice that the team leaked goals whenever he was included. Fans should have the fullest confidence in him in his last season whenever he is required in the back line.
Alex Walters has not factored much in the past few years as a Tar Heel, making only 2 appearances this year, but he is another player in whom fans should have a wealth of confidence. He is a high caliber player and a well-respected athlete. He scored a penalty in the shootout win over UMBC in the NCAA Tournament.
With Craven and Lovejoy leading the Tar Heel line once again in 2013 and Root and Rice playing the role of “aces in the sleeve” as well as Tannous and Walters available for back up, 2013’s seniors will be vital to a good 2013 season. If their previous performances give any indication of their future form, these current juniors and future seniors could be another hugely vaunted graduating class.