Earlier this season, North Carolina men’s soccer sophomore Verneri Valimaa found junior Andy Craven running behind Boston University’s defense, and Craven poked it past the keeper for a goal in UNC’s 2-1 win.
Craven and Valimaa, neither of whom were on the 2011 squad, are the two newest transfers to join the Tar Heels, and have faced an uphill battle in earning their keep on a new team.
And on Saturday, Craven will return to the College of Charleston, where he began his collegiate career two years ago.
Injuries have limited the number of minutes Craven has played this season, and coach Carlos Somoano has reduced Craven’s role when the team plays more than one game a week.
“Motivation’s probably the toughest thing, because it’s really hard for a young guy to look into the future as much as you have to when you’re injured,” Craven said.
But when Craven is on the field, he makes the most of his minutes.
Last year at College of Charleston, Craven was tied as the team’s leading scorer with six goals in eight games, despite missing more than half the season with a hamstring injury.
And he’s continued the offensive production in Chapel Hill, leading the Tar Heels with 11 points —four goals and three assists — this season.
“I just try to come on and work hard. That’s the one thing you can control in a game is how hard you work,” Craven said. “That often directly relates how well you play and if things fall in your favor.”
Craven isn’t the first transfer to have made an impact for the Tar Heels of the Somoano era, though.
Akron transfer Ben Speas, who now plays for the Columbus Crew, recorded seven goals and 10 assists for UNC in 2011 and scored the game-winner in the Tar Heels’ 1-0 national championship victory against UNC-Charlotte.
Somoano said the team places a strong emphasis on integrating its new players.
“The biggest thing is getting adjusted to your environment, getting used to it, and a lot of times that environment is able to consume the player and take away their strong qualities,” he said.
“So we invest a tremendous amount of time in making our new players — freshmen, transfers, domestic or international players — feel welcome, feel part of what we’re doing, try to culture them to what our dynamics are.”
Valimaa, who came to Chapel Hill from George Mason, said he and Craven have endured some of the same challenges.
“We both have the same kind of situation: when you come to a new team you have to earn your spot,” Valimaa said. “You’ve got to fight for it.”
Somoano said that Valimaa, who he described as a “bulldog,” has made it an easy choice to keep him on the field even though the midfielder has only one assist.
“Even when he’s making mistakes and not performing exactly what we’re looking for, it doesn’t seem to faze him,” Somoano said. “He just digs in a little bit deeper and grinds a little bit more and comes out on top.”
And Craven, who will look to score against players he once called teammates Saturday, said he won’t be harboring any past allegiances.
“I’m really looking forward to going back,” Craven said. “It’s going to be kind of emotional playing at my old stomping grounds, but I’m a full-blooded Tar Heel, so I’m ready to go back and beat them.”
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