The Wolfpacker

September 2015

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 53 of 95

54 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY MATT CARTER F ifth-year NC State men's soccer coach Kelly Findley knows this: if you can compete in the ACC, you can compete nationally. He also has a strong belief that this year the Pack can win the newly formed Atlantic Division in the ACC. The conference has switched to a two- division format that is structured similarly to the football alignment with Notre Dame joining the Coastal Division. Regardless of which side of the league teams find them- selves, the path to a conference title is stiff. Six teams were ranked in the preseason top 20 of the National Soccer Coaches As- sociation of America poll. Defending na- tional champ Virginia was No. 2, followed by Notre Dame (No. 4), North Carolina (No. 5), defending ACC champ Clemson (No. 11), Syracuse (No. 15) and Louisville (No. 18). "It's the top conference in the country," Findley said. "I have been here for four sea- sons; three of the four seasons the national champion has come out of conference. It's really, really difficult, and the margin of er- ror is incredibly thin." That margin is thinner for the Pack this year because its divisional crossover op- ponents are Virginia, Notre Dame and Duke. Findley is undaunted, however. He is re- laying a strong but simple message to his team. "If we can get some momentum, grow and stay healthy, I think we have a good chance of finishing in the top two or three of our division, if not winning it," Findley said."That's something I want to get across to the guys. "I think we have a chance to win the divi- sion this year if we do things right." That includes a focus on improving the transition game, defined in soccer as the ability to alternate from attacking to defend- ing and vice versa. "That comes down to work rate, discipline and the ability to keep your focus whether it's an easy game, hard game or somewhere in between," Findley said. "When you're young, that's sometimes hard to do. ■ PREVIEW MEN'S SOCCER ■ Key Games • Sept. 11, vs. Boston College — The Pack will play six of its first seven games, all non-conference ac- tion, away from home. However, it opens up ACC play at home against the Eagles. • Oct. 4, vs. Notre Dame — The Fighting Irish represent one of NCSU's crossover games in the Coastal Division, and they are an opportunity to knock off a preseason top-five team and a potential national title contender. • Oct. 30, vs. Clemson — The Coastal Division has the defending national champ in Virginia and two other preseason top five teams in Notre Dame and North Carolina. The Atlantic, though, is home to the league's defending champ, Clemson. The Tigers end the regular season for the Pack. Newcomer To Watch Freshman forward Clayton Sparks — Wilmington (N.C.) New Hanover High head coach T.J. Rennie said it best when Sparks was honored by Gatorade as the North Carolina's Men's Soccer Player of the Year. "We simply couldn't deal with Clay Sparks' strength, pace and quality," said Rennie, who watched Sparks score two goals for Jackson - ville High in a 2-0 win over New Hanover during the regular season. "I saw Clay as a great leader, fantastic individual player and the absolute driving force behind Jacksonville's success." Sparks tallied 47 goals and 12 assists as a senior at Jacksonville, while leading it to a 24-3-1 record and a run to the 3-A East Regional finals. READY TO COMPETE Head Coach Kelly Findley Is Confident The Wolfpack Can Thrive In The ACC Senior midfielder Holden Fender was third-team All-ACC last season after tying for the team lead with four assists. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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