N.C. State coach Kelly Findley was credited with putting together the No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the nation last spring by TopDrawerSoccer.com. So far, that recruiting effort is paying a nice dividend, and Findley might have the Wolfpack Nation to thank for it.
It may be just coincidence, but six of those 11 recruits played their club soccer for N.C. State alumni. What is not a coincidence is the Wolfpack’s solid start to the season, 2-1-1 after a 1-0 victory over William & Mary on Monday night.
Findley said his goal was to increase the strength of the Wolfpack roster from top to bottom and improve the team’s depth with the big class.
“You’re always looking for alumni to spot players,” he said. “But it’s a coincidence that it came at this time. They came at the right time. I don’t want to slight the work they’ve done with these guys, because it’s a strong group of alumni.
“We’ve got guys like Gerry McKeown with Players Development Academy and Tab Ramos. They played in the golden years of soccer here, are passionate about the program and want to stay involved.”
Three of the freshmen, Ade Taiwo, Conor Donovan and Cameron Steele, played for N.C. Alliance under Henry Gutierrez, a former Wolfpack All-American (1988-91). Donovan has also played for four other Wolfpack alums in Ramos (NCSU 1984-87), Dewan Bader (NCSU 1989-92), Dario Brose (NCSU 1988-91) and El Hadj Cisse (NCSU 2004-07).
Two freshmen, midfielder Zach Knudson and forward Ryan Peterson, came from the PDA team in New Jersey coached by McKeown (NCSU 1980-81). And the sixth, defender Matias Fracchia, played for NJSA 04 under Ramos, who is enshrined in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Ramos is the most decorated of all Wolfpack soccer alumni, having played in three World Cups for the U.S. He is currently the coach of the U.S. men’s under-20 national team, which includes Donovan and just finished a highly successful training effort in Argentina this week.
Taiwo and Knudson have started every game for the Wolfpack, while Donovan has two starts. Fracchia, Peterson and Steele have logged significant playing time off the bench.
“That is something you want to tap into your alumni,” Findley said. “These are young guys who grew up being N.C. State fans. There are guys who want to play for a certain team all their lives. They’re a little more driven.”
Moving up: Kelly Cobb needs only two more goals to move into the top 10 all-time at Duke, a benchmark that might have been expected a lot earlier during the senior forward’s career. A freshman campaign featuring 11 goals and nine assists landed her on Soccer America’s All-Freshman first team and the All-ACC second team, but her productivity dropped off the next two years, a result of timing and injuries.
Two years ago, Cobb played a limited schedule for Duke because she was in Japan helping the U.S. win the gold medal in the Women’s Under-20 World Cup. When she returned, injuries limited her effectiveness, and she scored only two goals in 10 games.
Last year, a healthier Cobb improved to a team-high seven goals, plus three assists. She already has four goals this season, giving her 24 for her career, and Duke coach Robbie Church said Cobb is having “her best year ever.”
Three of the goals came last weekend in the Duke Nike Classic, when the Blue Devils beat then-No. 18 Arkansas 3-0 and fell to No. 7 Penn State 4-3. Cobb was honored by the assembled coaches as the tournament’s offensive MVP. She was also named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week.
“She’s kind of added that last piece of the puzzle,” Church said. “She’s made good runs, put herself in scoring positions.”
“I feel good and healthy,” Cobb said. “I’m ready to lead this team. Right now we’re very young and improving. We’re such a young team.”
Opposing teammates: Duke men’s coach John Kerr will go up against a former teammate when the Blue Devils (2-1-1) visit No. 5 Louisville (1-1-1) for their ACC opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Kerr and Cardinals coach Ken Lolla were teammates on the 1983 Duke team when Lolla, an All-America midfielder, was a senior and Kerr a freshman.
“We weren’t close friends then, but we have remained friendly over the years,” said Kerr, who talks often with Lolla about ACC soccer issues. This will be their second meeting on the field. Louisville and Duke tied 0-0 in 2010 at Durham.
“James Belshaw had the game of his life,” Kerr said of his former All-ACC goalkeeper, who had 15 saves that night, including one on a penalty kick. Louisville would go on to play in the NCAA championship game that season, losing to Akron 1-0.
Looking ahead: Besides Duke-Louisvillle, conference play gets underway for the rest of the ACC men this weekend. On Friday, No. 3 North Carolina (2-1, 0-0) hosts Pittsburgh (2-1, 0-0), and N.C. State (2-1-1, 0-0) visits No. 18 Wake Forest, both at 7 p.m.
In women’s matches, N.C. State (2-4) hosts Western Carolina (1-3-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday and visits UNC Greensboro (2-3-1) at 7 p.m. Sunday. No. 25 Duke (3-3) plays Hofstra (3-2) at 3 p.m. Friday in Charlottesville, Va., then returns home to host LSU (3-2-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday. No. 10 UNC (3-2-1) is in the midst of a 13-day break in its schedule.