It was a very cold fall night but that didn’t stop the Ram faithful from layering up and wrapping themselves in blankets to come out and celebrate senior night and the final home game of the season. The stands contained the usual sea of black and gold, plus a myriad of other colors as the fans tried to stay warm. It was a special night for 7 student-athletes who would be playing their final regular season game with the team. There were hugs and handshakes as players took their place at midfield alongside Head Coach Dave Giffard and Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin to be recognized for their contributions to the VCU soccer program. A few jumped around in place to stay warm as family and friends attempted to capture the moment on camera.
Over the past 4 years this group of seniors accumulated 41 wins and back to back NCAA Tournament appearances and has contributed to building the foundation that is Dave Giffard’s vision for VCU soccer.
#11 Kharlton Belmar, a potent offensive weapon, has scored 18 career goals for the Rams. He ranks in the top-20 all-time scorers in program history. He also earned All-State, All-Conference, and All-Region accolades last season.
#6 Ray DeLeon, a quality midfielder, transferred last season after 2 years at DePaul University. He has started 3 of his 19 games played with VCU.
#14 Ritchie Duffie, a dynamic player in both the front and midfield, has started 34 of the 39 matches he played with the Rams in the last 2 years. He also contributed 3 career goals in that time.
#10 Mario Herrera Meraz, a determined striker, fought back from multiple injuries during his career to contribute 9 goals and 14 assists for VCU. His assists rank him in the top-10 all-time in program history.
#4 Assane Keita, a cornerstone in the effective defense, started in 44 of his 67 games. This year he started every conference game for the Rams, during which the defense has only allowed a single goal in the prior 7 games.
#17 Jose Manel, a solid offensive player, has contributed to wins in big games. Last year he scored 2 goals against national runner-up Maryland and this year he gave VCU a huge road win over top-10 ranked Georgetown. In his 3 seasons with the Rams he has accumulated 8 goals and 5 assists.
#7 Juan Monge Solano, a dynamic defensive player, played a key role in a stifling defensive unit. He appeared in 71 matches with the Rams and contributed 6 goals and 7 assists in addition to his work defending the net. Over his career he earned All-Conference, All-Region, and All-American honors.
At the start of the game the Rams were undefeated in A-10 conference play. There were a lot of hard fought battles this season, including an impressive out of conference game with #1 ranked Notre Dame where the Rams held off the Irish until late in double overtime. Head Coach Dave Giffard is intentional and deliberate in preparing his team with a challenging early schedule. Perhaps the most impressive stat on the season is that VCU’s defensive line only allowed 2 goals in conference play, one resulting in a tie and one in a loss and their Goal Keeper Garrett Cyprus recorded an impressive 8 shutouts with the help of a fantastic defensive line.
Both VCU and Saint Louis played aggressively and at the end of the first half neither had succeeded in finding the back of the net. It would continue into the second half until Saint Louis was able to score off a free kick just before the 75th minute. The Rams turned the intensity up and found another gear for the last 15 minutes, but were unable to answer with a goal of their own. It is the only conference loss of the season for VCU.
The Rams will host this year’s A-10 Tournament at Sports Backers beginning on November 13th and the team will play a TBD opponent at 8pm in the final match of the first round.
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