After years of persuading high school soccer players from outside the area to play for his team, head coach Bryan Laut and the Goucher College men's program are starting to capture the attention of local college soccer prospects.
Three key players who share the same hometown as the college are a big reason why.
Towson High School products Aiden Devaney and Nick Sickler have teamed with Calvert Hall graduate Drew List to form the backbone of the Gophers' improved defense while also contributing at key moments on the offensive end of the field.
That trio has played a large role in the team's recent turnaround. Goucher has won four straight games heading into its Oct. 17 Landmark Conference game against Catholic. The Gophers will enter that contest 5-8-1 overall and 2-2 in the conference.
"All three of them have started every game since they stepped on campus," Laut said. "They have all been big impact guys for us on the field and in everything we do. The three of them are the heart and soul of what we do defensively. Aiden and Nick rarely come off the field, and Drew plays 80 to 90 minutes a game."
Devaney is a junior center back who keeps things organized on the defensive end. He also serves as a mentor for the three freshmen defenders who often start next to him and log the most minutes. One of those freshmen is Sickler, who started as an outside back but moved inside with Devaney.
And since List plays in a defensive role as a holding midfielder, Devaney is essentially surrounded by four rookies.
"Aiden is like the wise old sage," Laut said. "We have a really young team, and when you look at our defense, of our four players in the back, three are freshmen. Aiden is the organizer and the leader on the field. We count on him to keep his cool in certain situations and to keep the team focused while making sure things go the way they should and that people are in the right spots."
The rookies surrounding Devaney are part of what Laut says is "by far our best freshmen class" since he took over the program nine years ago. In addition to List and Sickler, the newcomers include nine other players from Maryland. That wasn't always the case at Goucher.
"It's a lot different from my first few years when I would talk to people who live in Towson and they had never even heard of Goucher or seen Goucher's campus," Laut said. "This is a high-talent soccer area; we have three other local Baltimore-area players and are getting more and more Maryland kids every year.
"I think it's a combination of us having more success on the field and proving we can be competitive with anyone at the Division III level along with some of the initiatives implemented by [university president José Antonio Bowen]."
The three locals Laut referred to are sophomore forward Vinay Chandra (Gilman) from Clarksville, Md., freshman forward Samuel Onumah (Oakland Mills) from Columbia, Md., and sophomore defender Matt Gilley (Sparrows Point) from Baltimore.
Freshman midfielder Matthew Sanders (Manchester Valley) from Hampstead, Md., sophomore midfielder Zach Brumbalow (Liberty) from Eldersburg, Md., and freshman midfielder Nick Haines (Francis Scott Key) from Taneytown, Md., are also on the roster.
Chandra and List are the program's first Maryland Independent Athletics Association recruits, and each of the local players has played in at least seven games this year. Gilley has appeared in 13 contests, mostly as a reserve, while Sanders has eight appearances with four starts and Onumah has started four of his 14 games.
Devaney, Sickler and List clearly have had the largest impact of all the locals, though. While Devaney keeps the back end in line, Sickler and List each have contributed two goals and an assist. They're tied for third in the team scoring race.
Sickler and List tallied goals during a 3-2 victory at Juniata Oct. 6, with Sickler netting the game-winner in the game's final eight minutes. He was named the Goucher Male Athlete of the Week Oct. 9 for his efforts that day, as the Gophers came back from a 2-1 halftime deficit to earn the victory.
"Nick is such a good athlete and really a great competitor with a real strong will and desire to win," Laut said. "That's what makes him successful. He's an intelligent player who picks things up quickly and helps keep us organized in the middle while also being able to play at a great pace. He's a solid 1-v-1 defender and has a knack for making plays at big moments."
Laut described List as a "great ball-winner who is very calm and makes great decisions with the ball. He allows us to generate more on the attack, because he just distributes the ball a lot better than guys we've had there in the past."
It's easy for an outsider to look at the Gophers' results and the recent winning streak and assume that the team is playing much better than during its 1-8-1 start, but Laut could tell right away that his team would be much improved after going just 1-4-2 in the Landmark Conference a year ago.
"I've been very happy with the team's play for most of the year," he said. "The results weren't always what we wanted, because at the beginning of the year we just couldn't score. You have to score to win games, and with so many freshmen -- we have had as many as seven in the starting lineup -- we knew that there would be some growing pains."