Patrick Sigler tried his short-hair experiment.
Now — for the sake of the Cal Poly men’s soccer team’s offensive output — it’s time to bring back the flowing locks.
In preparation for Saturday’s exhibition opener against preseason No. 7 Cal at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, the Mustangs opened training camp at the Lower Sports Complex on Thursday.
With Sigler leading a senior-laden defense that Cal Poly head coach Paul Holocher said could stack up with the best in the country, the Mustangs are searching for a scoring punch to match and could get some of it from its experienced back line.
Sporting long hair in his first two seasons, Sigler scored seven combined goals, mainly working to net headers off free kicks.
Maintaining a short ’do last season, the 6-foot-4 center back failed to score a goal off his head.
Does correlation imply causality?
“Maybe, yeah,” Sigler said. “Maybe it’s a little superstition. And it looks a little bit better when I head the ball, hair flying everywhere.”
The senior from Cardinal Newman High in Santa Rosa remains the Mustangs’ top threat on set pieces and has been working 1-on-1 with the team’s best passers to improve that aspect of his game in the offseason.
Cal Poly needs it. Looking to replace the output of David Zamora, who tied for the program record with 25 goals in his four-year career, the Mustangs’ top returning scorer, junior forward Chris Gaschen, had only three goals last season.
If a standout scorer exists on the roster, he remains largely unproven, and Cal Poly is expecting to need contributions from a wide range of players.
“Since I’ve been here at Cal Poly, we’ve never had a double-digit goal scorer,” Sigler said. “David Zamora has been really close. Obviously, I’d love to have someone who would score 10 goals, but I’d also love if I had my starting forwards scoring six or seven goals and the guys coming off the bench getting four or five goals. With everyone contributing, the goals will count up.”
The Mustangs appear set defensively.
Senior goalkeeper Patrick McLain has started the past two seasons and gave up just 1.04 goals per game in 2010. He saved 83.5 percent of his opponents’ shots on goal and was in on five shutouts.
“A lot of our strength has to do with experience and maturity,” McLain said. “There’s a lot of great players in the college game, and I think if you have that experience, that little edge, you know how to react in certain situations. You know what to do and when to do it a little faster than a younger player does.”
Sigler has been a stopper since he shared Big West Freshman of the Year honors in 2008, and fellow senior Wes Feighner became an all-Far West Region second-team pick after being converted from an attacking forward to left back last year.
Feighner, a defender in much of his youth and junior careers, said he is more comfortable in that role, and that he has the ability to push forward and support the offense because of his early college experience.
Junior defender Cameron Walters also has the green light to push forward, too.
Additionally, sophomore defender Connor Dreshcler received rave reviews from coaches for stepping seamlessly into a veteran lineup as a true freshman last season.
“We have one of the best goalkeepers and back lines in the country,” Holocher said. “So, we just need to show it every game where we come out and are concentrated and focused on defending well as a team.”
The Cal Poly schedule is set up for success.
After opening the season at home against UNLV on Aug. 27, the Mustangs host New Mexico, Seattle, Villanova and West Virginia before making their only nonconference road trip of the season to Ohio for a tournament that includes a match against defending national champion Akron.
Eleven of Cal Poly’s 18 regular-season games will be played at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, where Holocher sports a 25-5-6 record in five seasons.
Because of that early run of home games, the Mustangs are looking for a fast start. Cal was an Elite Eight team last season, when they were beaten by Akron.
The 7 p.m. scrimmage might not count as a win or loss but will be a good barometer for whether Cal Poly will be able to capitalize on its favorable schedule and senior leadership.
“It was important to us that the guys came in sharp and fit,” Feighner said. “That way, we could hit the ground running today with our first official practice. So, we’ve actually had guys playing together for a long time now and we think (the scrimmage is) a good objective test to see where we really are.”