SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento State men's soccer team held its first official practice Wednesday morning and will hold two training sessions per day over the next 11 consecutive weekdays.
The team also has two exhibition games scheduled before its regular season opener Aug. 26 at CSU Bakersfield. The Hornets will have just three days of practice before their first exhibition game on Saturday, and what better way to start the year than facing the defending national champion and preseason No. 1 team in the country, Stanford, on its home field in Palo Alto.
"We've been emphasizing to the guys all summer long that its important that they come in fit because we have only three days before our first game, and even though it's a scrimmage its still a game and an important barometer of where we're at," said head coach Michael Linenberger as he enters his 28th season leading the Hornets. "We know Stanford is an excellent team and they will ask a lot of questions of us and that's what we want, to find out early what we have and what we're made of."
With a veteran group featuring nine seniors and seven juniors, the program has been building for the 2016 season with a deep and experienced roster.
"This is the most veteran team we've had in years," Linenberger said. "We've got some high expectations for ourselves this year and we hope we can meet those."
The Hornets return nine of their 11 starters from last season and 17 total letter winners, having lost just three seniors in 2015. Of the 25 goals the team scored last year, 21 of them came from returning players. Both Hornet goalies that played in 2015 also returned.
Among the nine returning starters are a pair of 2015 all-Big West selections. After leading the Hornets and tying for second in the Big West with seven goals and three game-winning goals, sophomore Brad Bumgarner was selected to the all-Big West freshman team. Bumgarner scored on three of his first four career shots on goal and totaled four goals and one assist in Big West play, while his seven goals equaled the most any Hornet player has scored in a season since 2010.
Bumgarner gave the Hornets an all-Big West freshman team selection for the third consecutive year. Midfielder Paul Geyer, who earned the honor in 2014, was all-Big Sky honorable mention last year as he played and started in 17 of 18 games despite battling injuries and played 1,482 minutes, second overall on the team and the most among all non-defenders. Offensively he tallied one goal and one assist for three points while playing every minute of 13 games.
Among the other offensive returners is senior midfielder Ivan Ramirez, who's six assists last year tied for the fifth most in a season in program history while he ranked second in the Big West in assists per game. Junior forward Cylus Sandoval had four goals last year while seniors Bert Corona and John Quintanilla and sophomore Jessie Gonzalez each tallied two goals.
The lineup is virtually unchanged on the defensive end of the field, with 2015 starting defenders Quintanilla, Javier Muñoz, Andrew Gosselin, and Fernando Ochoa all returning. In goal junior James Del Curto, who started 14 games in 2015, and senior Philip Bru, who started four, both return as well as does redshirt freshman keeper Nick Kubler.
Last spring, the large group of returning players got even more valuable experience as the squad had a nine day trip to Costa Rica, playing four games against professional sides and recording a 2-1-1 record.
"One of the reasons we put that trip together is because we knew we had such a veteran group," Linenberger said. "It gave us four extra games and a couple weeks of extra training (in the spring season) so we hope that will benefit us throughout the year. Some of the challenges and adversity we put the guys through and the bonding experience of coming together as a team will make a difference."
The team also had a memorable spring game hosting local USL Pro team Sacramento Republic FC in February, playing the side tight a 1-0 loss in front of a near capacity crowd at Hornet Field.
After qualifying for the Big West Tournament in 2014 the Hornets are looking to return after coming up just short of the postseason last year. Experience counts, and a veteran team has never been more veteran than the one Linenberger will send to the field in 2016.