Fairfax, VA (August 30, 2016) – During his time at George Mason, Cullen Hunter has seen the men’s soccer program go from A-10 champions in 2013 to a .500 team in 2015, as the squad is looking to reignite its past successes now in the early stages of the 2016 campaign (0-1).
When the team went 14-3-4, won the conference and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013, Hunter was a freshman watching from the sidelines.
Coming off his three years of varsity experience at Broad Run and playing on the Reston FC club team had earned him a spot on the roster with the Patriots, but had not quite prepared him for immediate action at the Division I collegiate level. Plus, there were already three seniors at his position, center back on defense.
“The transition to college was pretty immense, it was a whole new world, I was nowhere near ready for it,” Hunter said. “It was tough going from high school when I always played to college where everyone is really good.”
Not ready to compete and struggling to adjust, Hunter watched and learned from his elders, taking in as much information as he could from what proved to be one of the best teams in the country in 2013.
“In the long run, they were all very good role models for me,” he said. “I took the year to get better and focus on what I needed to do sophomore year.”
With a mass exodus of seniors following that strong season in Fairfax, Hunter worked hard in the offseason and was ready to compete for a starting position as a sophomore. Still battling for playing time against older players for the center back spot, he knew he needed to show everything he could do in the preseason. Hunter proved his worth and not only earned the starting job, but started in all 20 games in 2014.
“Getting the starting job, it was a lot of luck and a lot of focus. The preseason games are so important for defensive players because if you don’t start you aren’t really playing,” Hunter said. “Those first few games really solidify your spot, and basically I got lucky and played a little better than they did.”
From center back, he helped lead a very stout defense that propelled the team to another strong season, finishing the year at 11-4-5 and coming just short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The team even started 7-0-1 in the first eight games of the season.
“We were very stout on defense that year, we were a tough team to break down, that was kind of our ID, we didn’t score a whole lot of goals,” he said.
With 10 of the 11 starters returning in 2015, the expectations were high in Fairfax for the Patriots. However, the team lost its momentum and finished the season at 7-7-3.
“We were going in thinking we were going to do really well, but it didn’t work out that way, one of the bigger issues was that we were searching for goals. Also, we had the same backline on defense from sophomore year, but it wasn’t clicking the same way,” he said.
Individually, it was another solid year for Hunter, as he again started every game of the season at center back, playing in every minute in 15 of the 17 games. He logged a team high in minutes and even scored two goals as a defender.
“I think I was tied for the leading goal scorer for about six or seven games, which is not something you want your center back to be,” Hunter said.
Personal success is nothing new to Hunter, as he was a key contributor for three years on the Broad Run varsity defense, including team captain for the Spartans as a junior and senior and earning all-district honors both years.
“My favorite accomplishment was being team captain,” he said, “I really enjoyed working with Coach [Jon] Hicks and translating his thoughts to the team and molding the team, it gave me a leadership role that I had never had before.”
For the first time in two years, however, Hunter did not start in the Patriots season opening loss at rival American on Aug. 26 due to an injury. Battling nerve damage in his left foot, he saw no action in the preseason and wasn’t even cleared to play until Aug. 24, just two days prior to the opener.
“It’s been a little odd with my left foot, with nerve damage its almost like I have to re-teach it all over again, but it’s definitely getting there and I’m hoping I can get some minutes,” Hunter said.
The Patriots return to action at East Tennessee State Aug. 31, looking to regain that spark of 2013 and 2014. The home opener is Sept. 3 against Longwood.
“There’s nothing better than being in the locker room and running out onto the field with people in the stands, battling with your teammates, the atmosphere is very addictive,” he said.
Whether he is able to get healthy quickly or not, Hunter expects to be a leader for the younger guys this season both on and off the field, especially with a strong freshman class. He also hopes to return to the Patriots next year as a redshirt senior, as he will have another year of eligibility after not seeing the field as a freshman.
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun
Copyright © Viva Loudoun Media Communications LLC.
All Rights Reserved