D-II Teams To Watch
Aug. 25, 2009
By Kevin Scheitrum
Cal State Dominguez Hills
The defending national champs didn't score a whole lot last year. They didn't need to. Suffocating opponents at the clip of a 0.68 goals-against average in 2008, Cal State Dominguez Hills didn't allow a goal in the Tournament until the quarterfinals, when Midwestern State willed one in. Giving up two in the semis, the comparatively porous defense atoned in the finals, holding Dowling scoreless to send the Toros to the title. To re-create the feat this year, CSUDH will need to close the voids created when four-year letterwinning defenders Chris Stonerock and Alberto Garcia and goalies Justin Commins and Miguel Benitez. True, Dominguez Hills will look a whole lot different this year, but the foundation is there for another deep run. Look for forwards Greg Piechota and Scott Mariano (both 19 points in 2008) to break out in '09.
Dowling's made two national championship-game appearances in the past three years. Neither one of those teams looked anything alike. In 2006, when the Golden Lions won the national crown, they scored in crates, racking up double-digit goals a few times. In '08, when the Lions fell to Cal St. Dominguez Hills, they won almost uniformly close games. This year, with the return of forward Lamine Traore, who scored 26 goals, accounting for 57 percent of Dowling's offense and 20 goals more than the next-closest score, Dowling might have to get used to winning the same way. The Golden Lion midfield is largely intact, with 2006 first-team All-American Carl Rydin, 2008 third-team All-American Moussa Keita and longtime starter Steven all back to run the show. The questions lie in net, where Danish import Mads Aasrup looks to be in line to take over for graduated goalie Nemanja Veljovic, and on offense, where the quest to replace Traore should fall on a young but quick group of forwards.
Last year's Sunshine State Conference champs may need to scramble early, with the graduations of five All-Americans from Lynn's Round-of-16-bound team in '08, a club that fell to Tampa after downing its arch-nemeses twice during the regular season. Defensively, things should be in line, with Joe Cundall and Sam Craven back patrolling the Lynn zone. Offense is where the problems might lie, with Jean Alexandre and his 23 goals in 2008 now playing in the MLS. Look for the trio of Paulo Voz, a transfer from Central Methodist; junior Kyle Conrad, a 10-goal scorer in '08; and Gabe Taboada, an eight-goal scorer last year, to plug the holes up front.
Midwestern State seemed to score at will last year, pounding out at 3.09 goals-per-game average before falling to eventual champs Cal St. Dominguez Hills in the national quarterfinals. And, judging by the preseason poll in the Lone Star Conference, where the Mustangs were picked to haul down their fourth straight conference title, things shouldn't be too different this time around. A team that spent four weeks at No. 1 in the NSCAA rankings last year brings back only four starters, but also one of the best senior quartets in the nation: LSC Preseason Defender of the Year Brian Martinez leads the bunch, teaming with fellow defender Jake Landon, along with 2008 All-Southwest Soccer Conference first-teamer Nick Auditore and Kylie Kmiec up front, to make the Mustangs a team worth watching all year long. Craig Sutherland also returns for Midwestern after a season in which he led all freshmen in the country with 17 goals.
By most accounts, Millersville's 2008 season was among the finest, if not the best in program history. Rolling into the national quarterfinals on the strength of an 18-win season that saw them grind through the PSAC East, the Marauders posted the sixth-best scoring offense in the nation. But too many inside the program, 2008 fell short of expectations. It wasn't a disappointment, per se, just not what it could have been. The loss in the quarters, a 5-4 PK's loss to Northern Kentucky, exacerbated a loss in the PSAC championship game weeks before. So this year's team is out to take care of unfinished business. The trio of Sean McLaughlin, Ryan Kiley and Matt Procopio have left, but the Marauders get second-leading scorer Kyle Loughlin back, along with the 6-foot-3 blur of a forward in Dan Prian. Pat Baffuto should anchor the midfield. On defense, which looks to be Millersville's strength, a core of veterans returns with Matt Langione patrolling the goal.
The wave of four All-American defenders in two years has passed with the second half of the quartet's graduation last spring, but this is a team that won't look a whole lot different in 2009. Built on defense, Northern Kentucky's faces certainly won't be familiar - 17 players are new, with only 12 returning from last year's team, which finished 16-3-4 after falling in the national semis to Dowling - but the system should surge on. As the defense, led by Chris Dobrowolski, cobbles together in the early going, goalie Mike Lavric will be crucial. Offensively, the team's riding on the shoulders of the last two GLIAC Players of the Year, in Steven Beattie and Braden Bishop, both of whom combined for 29 goals last year (21 of which went to Beattie). Finally, look for the additions of Irishmen Andrew Montgomery (a stellar midfielder) and Paul Andrews (a 6-foot-5 defender) - the latest deliveries in the Irish pipeline to the Norse - to make a big splash.
Only three starters remain from a team that gave up a nation's second-best 0.45 goals per game last year, with a glaring void in net created with the graduation of All-American Chad Becker. But there's talk that the recruiting class pulled in by Tony Tocco might be the best to ever hit the field at Rockhust. They'll be joining a solid core of talent, led by Kyle Miller on defense, third-team All-American Kyle Samuelson (8g in '08) at midfield and Haggai Leboo at forward, the latter of which scored only five goals this year, but after scoring 31 in his first two seasons, looks rigged to blow this year. And if there's a right combination of abilities to be found, count on Tocco - he of the 566 lifetime wins across the NAIA and NCAA at Rockhurst - to find it.
A team that finishes fourth in scoring offense and seventh in scoring defense warrants a spot on almost any list. But what makes Sonoma a team to watch this year is how it'll react to an exodus of seniors, including the losses of three first-team All-Americans - the only collection of three players from a team on last year's All-American list. With the departures of Eric Lafon and Ross Middlmiss go 76 points from last year, while Doug Carr brings with him the cornerstone of a defense that allowed only 18 goals in 24 games. Add to that list Andrew Bailey and Nathan Medina, and the Seawolves will be without their top four leading scorers from a year ago. That isn't to say that the Seawolves don't have anybody left to carry the team, however. Cam Vickers, who assisted on 10 goals last year, is back. So is 13-point scorer Ben Langwith, 17-game-starter Stuart Gallant on defense and a few other defenders with significant game experience. Sonoma most likely won't put up the numbers it did in '08, but with the momentum gained from two straight brilliant seasons and the fire provided by a first-round NCAA Tourney loss to Cal State LA last year, expect the Seawolves to fire out of the gates.
Hopes are high at Tusculum, with nine starters back from a team that went 20-3-1 in 2008 to reach the national quarterfinals and record the best season in school history, and the coaches in the South Atlantic Conference seem to agree, planting the Pioneers as the No. 1 team in the SAC preseason poll. Tusculum's leading scorer from the past two years is gone, but the Pioneers shouldn't have too much trouble finding the net this year. Midfielder Anteneh Lemma and his 14 goals (38 points) should provide ample spark for an offense that also includes SAC preseason first-team midfielder Lucas Paulini, who joined Lemma on the All-American team last year. Rounding out a deadly midfield is Scott Lucky, who led the league with 13 assists last year. On defense, Lance Moore returns for his fourth year starting in net, with Sven Meyer and Phillip Hagen running the show in front of him.
Ted Priestly's gone from his post at Lowell, after 10 years at the helm of the River Hawks program. In his place now stands Bryan Scales, who comes to Lowell after 15 years at Cornell - 11 of them as Big Red head coach. But for all the changes up top, the team on the field will look very similar to the one that advanced to the national quarterfinals in 2008. Nineteen players in total are back, with seven starters taking the field again - but the most important of them might be the one who doesn't stray from goal, with Ryan Richards back for his fourth year as the starter in net after playing almost every minute last year and giving up only 25 goals. In front of him will play a defensive trio as good as any, with Rudy Kocandrle, Asley Barrios and Mike Galvin. Offensively, the Hawks will need to play around with a few lineups to replace a number of losses, but leading scorer Steven Potcner is back, along with three-year starter Jhony Valencia.