Gulf South Conference coaches have the Lee men's soccer team placing third behind West Florida and Auburn Montgomery (AUM) in their preseason poll, but that is something Flames' Coach Derek Potteiger says never enters his mind. "If somebody else doesn't tell me, I wouldn't even know where we are picked. Preseason polls: national, conference, or otherwise, mean nothing to me. We have our own internal goals and standards and that is what drives us, not what anyone on the outside says or thinks."
Coaches usually look directly at last season when making their selections.
West Florida handed Potteiger's outstanding defensive team a pair of 2-1 defeats last season, one coming in the finals of the GSC tournament. AUM left the Ray Conn Sports Complex with a rugged 1-0 win. Lee finished with a 13-5-1 record with three of the five defeats coming to the clubs picked to finish in the first and second slots this season.
The Lee coach pointed out that a handful of players graduated. However, he singled out two key starters in Jared McWhorter and Edgar Cervantes. "You can't completely replace either of those guys, as both were important to us, but we do feel like we brought in some good players that have their own strengths and quality," said Potteiger. McWhorter was a midfielder who was named All-GSC and a member of the GSC All-Tournament team. Cervantes was a defensive and midfield standout. He was also listed on the All-GSC team.
Coach Potteiger and Associate Head Coach Torrey Stricklin are blessed with veterans as they prepare for the new season. Defender Jeremy Bischoff, midfielders Eemeli Makela and Fabian Navarro are members of the Preseason All-GSC Team. Goalkeeper Sam Keener was second team All-GSC last season returns, while Navarro and Bischoff landed on the All-South Region squad. "In addition, the other players we bring back are just as important and there is something to be said about experience on your squad when it relates to the GSC," explained Potteiger, who enters his sixth season of directing the Lee program.
A pair of transfers, senior Nathaniel Campbell and junior Eamon McLaughlin head the list of newcomers. "Eamon and Nate were here with us last spring, so that's why they are on that list," pointed out Potteiger. "We know what they are capable of, but we really like the whole group, both transfers and freshmen alike." The 2022 season roster as it heads into the opener against North Georgia on August 25 shows eight grad students, two seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.
Building depth is something all coaches seek when it comes to contact and physical play. Coach Potteiger says, "I think both our maturity and our hunger in combination is probably what excites me most about this team. We have good players and a good vision for the season, but the mentality of the group is what could separate us, and that will be called on early. The cry could have been DEFENSE after the Flames gave up four goals in a loss to North Georgia last September 7. The team grew from that experience and only gave up more than one goal twice to an opponent the remainder of the year. Keener was in goal as the angry Lee squad shut out nine opponents.
So close could very well be the theme for last year's season. The Flames managed 35 goals over 19 games while allowing just 15. Four of their five defeats were by one goal. Coach Potteiger admitted there was an easy answer when he was asked about areas his team will be seeking to improve? "That easy, we just need to score more goals. We had too many data points that should point to goals scored and we just didn't capitalize. Goals change games. That will be one of the things we are focused on this year." The Flames lost their leading scorers. Forward Mattia Balanzo tallied seven goals and McWhorter five. However, Navarro, the sophomore performer from Dalton, Georgia is a genuine threat after recording five goals and four assists last year.
When contests are decided by a single goal, the tension grows stronger. Contests with West Florida were decided by the same scores twice last season, the last knocking the Flames out of tournament play and giving the championship to the Argonauts. Coach Potteiger's team also lost 0-1 at Spring Hill and 0-1 to Auburn Montgomery at home. No wonder the coach said, "There are no easy games and particular dynamics with certain teams or certain locations can add even more to the challenge." Look at the Preseason Predictions again, Lee and Montevallo fought to a 0-0 tie last season and this year the coaches pick Lee third with 96 points
and one first-place vote. Montevallo received 93 points and two first-place votes.
Potteiger added, "It is a strong conference again this year from top to bottom and it is a group of coaches that work hard on the recruiting front. Several teams had great seasons last year and I would expect they want to build on that, but no question there will be other programs that put great teams on the field this year."
The coach left little doubt he pleased with his staff. "I am thrilled with my coaching staff," he stated. "Consistency in a staff is a regular part of top quality, championship teams come from that standpoint and our staff is a strength of the program. We all work well together, and we just enjoy being around each other, but more importantly I think our players really value the staff and what we do in leadership for them."
Torrey Striklin begins his fourth season with the Lee men's soccer program and was promoted to the role of Associate Head Coach in July of 2022. Stricklin has served as Coach Potteiger's right-hand man, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons, with a one-year stint as head coach at Biola University (Calif.) in 2020 mixed in.
Stricklin joined the Lee staff after a successful playing career for Coach Potteiger at Gordon College from 2013-2016. Together, they amassed an impressive 61-18-3 mark with two trips to the NCAA D2 National Tournament.
After graduating in 2016 Stricklin served on staff at Brown University as an assistant coach in 2017 and was also a coach for a top club team in the New England Revolution Academy. Stricklin has his Master Coach Diploma, Mental Performance Training Diploma, and Performance Analysis Diploma from the United Soccer Coaches. He also completed his Master Coach Leader Certificate from the University of Delaware and is currently enrolled in UEFA C license from Scottish FA.
Ryan Swartzentruber begins his sixth year working under Coach Potteiger. He enjoyed three years of club coaching experience with the Mount Vernon Sting Association, along with being a Goalkeeping Academy trainer and Columbus Crew Youth goalkeeper coach.
Daniel Hrenko returns for his second year with the Lee men's soccer program as the graduate assistant in 2022 after a successful playing career. Hrenko was a three-year starting goalkeeper for the Flames and culminated his career with the program's first GSC Championship in 2019.