Fall Sports: Preview on the Bluff

It’s not quite time for basketball season just yet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of action to catch around campus this fall. Our sports staff has you covered.

Men’s Soccer

After falling to Virginia Commonwealth University 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament last year, the Duquesne men’s soccer team is looking to come back to the conference with a vengeance. The Dukes finished 4-3-1 in the conference and 9-8-1 overall.

The team will be without graduate Simon Gomez, who was an elusive scorer for the Dukes during his four-year career. However, senior defender Colin Phillips will be back for the Dukes and leading the squad. Also returning are seniors Austin Lange and Karter Sell, who will kickstart the Dukes’ offense this season. Former Duquesne basketball player senior Kadeem Pantophlet will also be returning to the Duquesne men’s soccer squad for his second season. Pantophlet ended the season with nine points (second on the team behind Gomez’s 11 points).

The Dukes weren’t prolific scorers last season, but rather focused on the defensive side of the game. Head coach Chase Brooks returns for his second season on the Bluff with a strong recruit class that includes eight freshmen, but he will be without former assistant coach Steve Wieczorek, who left to take a job at Oregon State.

The Dukes will actually travel to Oregon State and Portland in mid-September to play two games on the west coast. A-10 play will begin on Oct. 12 and the Red & Blue will play eight conference games overall, of which only three will be at Rooney Field. Look out for the game on Oct. 24 against VCU, where the team will look to defeat the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. The Dukes continue exhibition play this Sunday at Pitt at 4 p.m. before starting the regular season Aug. 29 at Marshall University.
-Addison Smith

Football

The Dukes of the gridiron return to action this fall with 16 starters from last year’s team, which captured a share of the Northeastern Conference title for the second time in three seasons.

Head coach Jerry Schmitt enters his 10th season on the Bluff with 18 seniors and sophomore quarterback Dillon Buechel, who turned heads in his first year as the starter in 2013. The team will open the year on the road against a tough Division I opponent in University of Buffalo on Aug. 31, followed by a trip to Ohio to face I-AA Youngstown State the following week. They’ll return to action on the Bluff on Sept. 13 against Dayton following an undefeated campaign on Rooney Field in 2013.

After redshirting for a season, Buechel posted the best numbers by a freshman quarterback in program history, setting the school record for passes attempted (373) and passes completed (217). He also threw for 2,569 yards, good enough for the sixth-highest total in school history.

Fifth-year senior Ryan Ho returns as the starter at running back. The Dukes lost NFL hopeful Gianni Carter to graduation, but Buechel will line up against Buffalo with plenty of familiar faces at the wideout position, including fifth-year senior Noel Oduho, juniors Dave Thomas and Chris King as well as sophomore Reggie McKnight.

On the defensive side, the Red & Blue return with plenty of depth and experience at nearly every position. Junior linebacker Christian Kuntz, who was just the fifth Duquesne player to be named an All-American (Third Team), suffered a torn ACL in the spring and will not play this year. Junior defensive linemen Dane O’Driscoll and Zach Zidian will return to the trenches after combining for 16 starts last season. Sophomore Aaron Reed and junior Sam Martello will provide experience at the inside linebacker position in Kuntz’s absence.

In the secondary, the Dukes enter the year with four seniors hungry for one more run at the NEC title and the FCS playoffs. Devin Williams and Nick Floyd are the incumbents at the cornerback position, while Rich Piekarski and Chris Johnson will flank each other at the safety positions.

With spiffy new uniforms and a wealth of experience, the Dukes hope to continue their success at home and in the conference, and ultimately capture an outright NEC championship after sharing the title with Sacred Heart in 2013.
-Pat Higgins

Women’s Soccer

Expectations are high for the Duquesne women’s soccer team this year.

Minimal graduations combined with a talented freshman class lead to these expectations. Couple that with a strong core of returning players, and the Dukes are looking to become one of the best teams in school history.

This year the Dukes have a larger non-conference schedule with some tough games to both begin and end it. The Dukes begin the season against two crosstown rivals: Pitt and Robert Morris. Those two games will give the Dukes an early idea of how much the talented roster translates to success on the pitch.

The Dukes close the non-conference schedule with a deadly road trip in late September that will most definitely provide the team with valuable experience against top programs in the country before conference play begins at home on Oct. 3.

They travel to Saint Francis, a team that finished 13-8-1 overall and 7-2-1 at home. The Dukes then head to Georgetown, a program ranked 20th in the nation in the preseason NSCAA Coaches Poll. The final two games will require the Dukes to travel across the country as they finish at UC Riverside and at UC Santa Barbara.

The biggest loss for the Dukes will be Stephanie Colon, a senior last year and a leader for the team. She finished the season tied for the team lead with three assists last year. The 14 freshmen from last year’s squad have all had a full year to learn head coach Al Alvine’s system and become familiar with what it takes to be successful in the Atlantic 10. Look for any number of those talented sophomores to play a big role in the success of the team this year.

Two freshman goalkeepers provide depth for the team, which is crucial considering starting goalkeeper Devon Tabata will be graduating this year. How many of them will have an impact will be revealed as the season progresses, but reports from camp indicate they are working hard to become a part of the team.

-Saúl Berríos-Thomas

Women’s Volleyball

Following an impressive 2013 campaign, the Duquesne Dukes women’s volleyball team is looking to build on last year’s success when they open up against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the annual Queen City Classic on the 29th.

Led by head coach Steve Opperman, The Red & Blue were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Division One Tournament last year to the Kentucky Wildcats, but that doesn’t takeaway from their amazing accomplishment of winning the school’s first ever Atlantic 10 title in the sport last spring.

It’s safe to say that even though the women enjoyed the feeling that comes with winning a conference championship, their minds are now set on making it out of the first stage of this year’s tournament.

To accomplish this, the squad will be hoping that their three new freshman, Sydney Glover, Rachel Stack and Molly Davet will take on the pressure that comes with joining such a promising team.

In addition to the three freshmen, another new face will be joining the ranks. Liis Kullerkann is a graduate student who will have one year of eligibility after transferring from Ohio University. At Ohio, the Estonian native finished her junior season competing in 32 matches and 115 sets, while also being named to the WKU Invitational All-Tournament Team.

With these new additions, a conference championship repeat is still looking alive and well. Take note that last season the Dukes notched an eight-game winning streak in the heart of the season and lost only twice within the conference. Another successful A-10 run like that will surely give this team the confidence it needs to make a statement in this year’s NCAA tournament.
-Joey Sykes

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