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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The men's soccer program begins the 2017 season tomorrow when the Hornets host Santa Clara at 5 p.m. in the first of two home exhibition games. Sacramento State will also host San Francisco in an exhibition matchup on Sunday at 5 p.m.

The Hornets, led by 29th year head coach Michael Linenberger, open the regular season at home against Pacific on Friday, Aug. 25. Counting both exhibitions, Sacramento State will play six of its first seven games of the season at Hornet Field, which includes a pair of doubleheaders (Sept. 1, Sept. 8) with the women's team. In fact, the team will play away from Hornet Field just once through the first half of September.

Last year, Sacramento State finished the season with a 9-8-3 overall record and a 4-5-1 mark in a the Big West Conference. The Hornets, who finished second in the North Division, hosted a Big West Tournament game for the first time and defeated UC Riverside, 2-1. Sacramento State lost in the semifinals at CSUN in the sixth round of a shootout, and would have hosted the conference championship game with a victory.

With the 2017 season on the horizon, the Hornets will look to compensate for the loss of seven starters from a season ago, including each of the team's top three goal scorers. Sacramento State graduated 10 seniors and welcomes an incoming class that includes 14 newcomers. The 26-man roster features six seniors, five juniors, five sophomores and 10 freshmen.

With the team in its second week of practice (first double day training sessions were Aug. 9), the Sacramento State media relations office sat down with Linenberger to get his perspective on the season.

Q: You lost your top three goal scorers (Alex Bettencourt, Ivan Ramirez, Nate Nugen) from a year ago. Those three combined for 19 of your team's 22 goals. Is this a concern, or do you feel like you have the pieces to compensate for that loss of scoring production?

ML: Yes, it's absolutely a concern. We are hoping to get quality production from (junior) Brad Bumgarner who scored seven goals as a freshman, but dealt with injury issues a year ago. We also have some quality freshmen coming in, and we are hoping they will pitch in some goals as well. Goal scoring is the hardest part of the game, and losing those three seniors is difficult. But we need to find goal scoring from somewhere, and some of that could come from the youngsters.

Q: Of the 26 players on the roster, 14 are newcomers, and 10 of those 14 are freshmen. Talk about the talent level of the incoming class and how much they will be relied upon this season.

ML: It's a very talented group of newcomers, and it's a big class. We graduated 10 seniors, and we have 10 freshmen coming aboard. We will need half of those freshmen to contribute right away. If we can do that, we feel like we have a nice group of upperclassmen that have experience and will provide good leadership.

Q: What style of game will Sacramento State play this year?

ML: We always like to play a possession style of game, we like to build out of the back. At the same time, collegiate soccer is a very fast and physical game, and we will get down and dirty and aggressive when that's what the game demands. But we are hoping to have enough skill, composure and poise to keep the ball and possess it some as well.

Q: You have five fourth-year seniors in James Del Curto, Paul Geyer, Trevor Jackson, Cylus Sandoval and Elias Rieland. Talk about how important they will be to the success of the program?

ML: This group is vital to our success. We need to have good years from all five of those players. They have a lot of experience and will provide good leadership. If we can keep those seniors healthy, and we can get that 50 percent contribution from the youngsters, I believe we will have a good season.

Q: Who are your team captains?

ML: The team captains are seniors Paul Geyer and James Del Curto for the second straight year. Even though we lost 10 seniors from a year ago, we didn't lose our captains. Both compliment each other very well, and they are good players and good people. Already, during the first six days of our preseason, they've done a great job teaching the freshmen the ropes and how things are done around here. Their leadership will be key to our success.

Q: The Hornets won a Big West Tournament quarterfinal game at home last season, and were a shootout loss away in the semis from hosting the championship game. Talk about how valuable that experience was for this year's team.

ML: Last season was our best year in the Big West since we joined the league in 2012. We hosted and won a first round game, qualified for the semifinals for the first time, and lost in the sixth round of the penalty kick shootout. So we were very close to not only getting to the final, but we would have hosted that final as well. Yes, we lost a big portion of that group from last season, but we also have a big portion returning that still has that taste in their mouth and are motivated to take it a step further. Obviously, this is a bit of a rebuilding year when we lose that many guys, but that doesn't mean we don't have the skill or ambition to qualify for the Big West Tournament and win a championship.

Q: What are some of the goals you have set forth for the team?

ML: Our goals never change. First and foremost, we need to finish in the top three in our division and qualify the Big West Tournament. Ideally, we would like to be the No. 1 seed and get a first round bye. If we aren't the No. 1, we want to be the No. 2 and host a first round game. Ultimately, we would like to be Big West champions and get back to the NCAA Tournament. We haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010, and it's time we return.

Q: Entering your 29th season, you are the longest tenured head coach for any of the 21 intercollegiate programs at Sacramento State. Talk about some of the reasons you have made Sacramento State your home.

ML: Obviously, I love this place. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been here for 29 years. It's been an interesting process, coming in as a very young coach (in 1988) when we were a Div. II non-scholarship program. We quickly went Div. I without a conference and without scholarships. We eventually got into a conference, received scholarship funding and then we got a facility. Since then, we've won a couple conference championships and we are now in a very good Big West Conference. Things have constantly gotten better during my time here, and it keeps the fire burning. Everything from better facilities to more scholarships to an improved budget....it keeps things exciting. Sacramento State is a great place, a great University, we have great people to work with, and I'm hoping to be here for quite a few more years.

Q: Speaking of the improved facilities during your tenure, talk about some of the proposed facility enhancements that fans can expect to see at Hornet Field in the future.

ML: Very excited about how far the facility has come during my tenure, which includes playing on an intramural field when I first started coaching at Sacramento State. We now have a beautiful playing surface, a new scoreboard, and we have secured the funding for new restrooms/snack bar area. In fact, construction on that project will start any day now. We've also gotten the approval to begin a fundraising campaign to put a brand new entrance into our facility to make it more of a stadium feel. Personally, I wrote the first check for this project over the summer, and I'm hoping we can get some alums and boosters to follow suit. We are hoping to get some momentum for this project by holding a special alumni event around the time we play UC Irvine on Sept. 30. Ultimately, we would also eventually like to get stadium lights and permanent stadium seating rather than the bleachers we have now. It's an ambitious project goal and won't happen all at once, but the restrooms/snack bar project should be finished by the end of the season and we are hoping to secure the funding for the entrance within a year's time.

Click here to see the proposed stadium entrance and to donate for the project. For more information, contact the Hornet Club's Tim Mahan at (916) 278-3899 or tim.mahan@csus.edu.