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Veteran X-Men focused on challenging for conference soccer crown

Senior forward William Warren of the St. F.X. X-Men challenges Dalhousie Tiger goalkeeper Ben Grondin during pre-season action on the turf at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex in Guysborough. Bryan Kennedy
Senior forward William Warren of the St. F.X. X-Men challenges Dalhousie Tiger goalkeeper Ben Grondin during pre-season action on the turf at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex in Guysborough. Bryan Kennedy - Corey LeBlanc
ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

[Editor's note: The X-Men opened the regular season over the weekend, at home, with a win over UPEI (2-0) and a loss to UNB (4-1).] 

The veteran St. F.X. X-Men soccer team has its sights set on capturing an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) crown.    

“We are not super deep – it is the smallest roster we have had in my 11 years here,” head coach Graham Kennedy said.    

He noted the program, traditionally, has carried 25 to 27 “active” players on the roster; this year, they have 21.    

“Staying healthy is going to be a key,” Kennedy said.    

He added the importance of “how well we stand up to physical rigors” of play in the AUS.    

Kennedy said – considering the talent that will take the pitch for the X-Men, and if they avoid the bite of the injury bug – the expectation is a top-three finish in the conference.    

“We think we can make the [conference] final, once again,” he added.

‘Exceptional players’    

Former U Sports player of the year Dan Hayfield is back for his fifth season with the Blue and White.    

“He is focused, sharp and looks really good,” Kennedy said of the veteran goal-scoring forward, who played this summer in USL League Two.    

He added Hayfield is “one of the best in the country.”    

All-Canadian Josh Read, a two-time conference all-star, will anchor the X-Men back line.    

“He is a premiere defender, fantastic leader and vocal presence,” Kennedy said of the fourth-year senior.    

He added Read is “so lovely to watch.”    

Rounding out a quintet that provides what Kennedy called “tremendous leadership qualities” is senior forward Tane Caubo, junior defender Sam Charron and fifth-year senior forward Ben Herringer.      

William Warren, another senior forward, has been “an absolute force” in the pre-season, according to Kennedy.    

“He is so hard to play against,” the head coach said of the Windsor, Nova Scotia native, who played this summer with FC Buffalo.    

Kennedy noted Warren has come back “stronger and fitter.”    

Nick Aquino of Dartmouth – another Bluenose product – has returned for his junior season in the midfield.    

“This is the best I have ever seen him play,” Kennedy said of his pre-season.    

“He is so quick – twisting and turning; so combative and explosive.”    

Blake Fenton is back at forward for his junior season.    

“That was a great experience for him, and he is ready to go,” Kennedy said of the Halifax native, who was a teammate of Hayfield’s this summer in USL League Two.    

Overall, Kennedy said “we have some exceptional players coming back.”

The newcomers    

Noting it is also the smallest recruiting class of his X-Men tenure, Kennedy talked about some of the newcomers.    

“He has looked OK in the pre-season,” the head coach said of Antigonish native Oliver Storseth.    

He added the program has “high hopes” for the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals’ product.    

“Oliver is going to have to continue to adjust to the speed of the [AUS] game and refine his game,” Kennedy said.    

Staying in this part of the province, there is New Glasgow native Carson Ripoll, a midfielder who redshirted last season.    

“He has been absolutely outstanding [in the pre-season] and he is brimming with confidence,” Kennedy said.    

Another freshman who has received “a lot of pre-season minutes” is Calgary Foothills’ product Gabriel Marra.    

“He has done really well,” Kennedy said, adding he is “so tidy with the ball.”

On the pitch    

The X-Men opened the AUS regular season with home matches versus the UPEI Panthers and UNB Reds over the weekend.    

Results were unavailable at press time.  

St. F.X. will be on the road for three consecutive matches, including Dalhousie (Sept. 15), Mount Allison (Sept. 21) and UNB (Sept. 22).    

They will return to the St. F.X. Stadium turf Friday, Sept. 27, when they welcome the Saint Mary’s Huskies.    

Game time is 7:15 p.m.    

Two days later (Sept. 29), at 3:15 p.m., they will host the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus.                      

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