Midfield combination put Longwood on tournament berth path

Senior Finnlay Wyatt and junior Dan Campos have paved different paths through life, paths that crossed three years ago when they became members of the Longwood men's soccer program.

Since that intersection, the international duo has risen to become one of the midfield combinations in the Big South, a pair that has led Longwood back to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2013.

"I think we definitely make each other better by putting one another in good positions," said Campos on his relationship with his midfield counterpart Wyatt. "It's a type of chemistry that you have with someone that you just kind of feel out what they're thinking. It's just easier to predict what's going to happen, so it's easier to do it."

The fleet-footed Campos has blossomed in his role as the Lancers' creator in the midfield, taking over the NCAA lead with 12 assists, a combined three of which came in the back-to-back postseason clinching 4-3 overtime win against Liberty on Nov. 2 and Sunday's 3-1 quarterfinal win over UNC Asheville.

Those assists have come as part of a late-season tear for the Bergen, Norway, native, who has amassed 11 points during that two-game span with four goals including game-winners in both contests. Several of those scores came in highlight fashion, including his free kick golden goal over the rival Flames in overtime this past Wednesday.

But for all the newfound scoring prowess Campos has found — he did not have a single goal all season until scoring twice in each of his past two games — he still prefers to create opportunities for his teammates rather than make them for himself.

"I'm a better passer than a finisher," said the three-time All-Big South second team selection Campos, whose 12 assists rank tied for second on Longwood's all-time single-season list and first in the Division I era. "For me, it's just natural to set up a pass because I think I just find myself in positions to be able to set people up."

Campos' creativity in the midfield was once again on display following Wednesday night's epic performance with a five-point night — two goals and an assist — in Longwood's 3-1 win over UNC Asheville Sunday to send his team into the Big South semifinals for the second time in four seasons.

Those two back-to-back performances from Campos have elevated him among the program's elite creators, as he finds himself as Longwood's leader in the Division I era with 24 assists and second all-time in program history behind only Ray Jones' 43 career assists.

"He finds himself in good positions, so defining passes is what he's best at," Wyatt said of Campos. "I try to put myself in the best positions so that he knows I'll be there (to finish). I think we're both intelligent players. It's easy to form a partnership with him because of our understanding of the game. We can feed off of each other, we can work together."

That chemistry with Wyatt has been on full display throughout this season, as the pair has hooked up on three of Wyatt's five goals this season.

A product of Sheffield, England, Wyatt — Longwood's first All-Big South  first-team pick in program history — has become one of the top goal producers in the Big South in his three seasons in a Longwood uniform after transferring from VCU prior to the 2014 season.

Wyatt, a senior and one of two team captains for Longwood, ranked among the Big South's top three in goals and assists this season and finished inside the top six in points.

"I think with (Wyatt), he's a better finisher," Campos said on his senior captain Wyatt. "He's better at executing the play than setting up.

"In Norway, I always played with friends that I've grown up with, and with Finno, I have the same type of chemistry on the field. You feel like you know the person better than other people on the field, but it's just like having the same idea to soccer. We both want the same things, so it's easy to find the solutions on the field."

The heightened chemistry between Campos and Wyatt has been a welcome development for the Lancers, who lost their leading goal-scorer from last season, now-sophomore Willy Miezan. Miezan broke out in his first season in Farmville, scoring 13 goals to rank among the top 10 in the nation, but suffered a torn ACL in the preseason and has watched from the sidelines since.

But while the loss of Miezan proved devastating at the time, it allowed for Campos and Wyatt to blossom thanks to the strategy deployed by 14th-year head coach Jon Atkinson. Needing to overcome an obvious scoring deficiency, Atkinson moved Wyatt out of his comfort zone to the front line during the early portion of the season. At that position, the typically midfield-based Wyatt helped in mentoring Longwood's leading goal-scorer Max Poelker and his freshmen midfield counterpart Connor Rea.

Poelker, a Yorktown, Va. native, has used blossomed as well under that mentorship, turning in a fantastic freshman season that saw him score a team-leading seven goals en route to earning Big South honorable mention and Big South All-Freshman team honors. Of his goals, six have been on assists from Wyatt or Campos, and in the case of two of those, both of Longwood's top midfield combination.

Meanwhile, Rea, the Midlothian, Va., native, has also made an impact in the midfield with his two goals – his first coming in the form of a game-winner against VMI in the season opener. He has emerged as a younger Campos, coming on late in the season with two goals in his last three games while seldom leaving the field.

"They come in and motivate us," Campos said of his freshman counterparts. "They bring a lot of energy and are excited to play every game, and we see that. Hopefully Max and Connor can start building a relationship like me and Finno have, because it will really help Longwood in the future."

The future comes sooner rather than later, as the Lancers look to break through to their first Big South Championship game. All that stands in their way is the No. 2 seed in the entire tournament, a well-rested High Point squad that earned a first-round bye. That matchup kicks off at 7 p.m. Wednesday in High Point, N.C., pitting the red-hot Lancers against a surging Panthers squad that is on a nine-game unbeaten streak.

To have a chance at an upset bid, the chemistry between Campos and Wyatt will need to be at an all-time high. Good thing it's been pretty strong lately.

Above: Finnlay Wyatt. (Courtesy Mike Kropf/Longwood Photo)
Middle: Dan Campos. (Courtesy Mike Kropf/Longwood Photo)

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