Challengers To The Throne
Aug. 25, 2009
By Kevin Scheitrum
The Lords’ season slammed to a halt in the national semfinals last year, ending with a 4-1 loss to Stevens in Greensboro, but not before Amherst put together its second-ever trip that deep into the Tournament and claimed its first-ever NESCAC title, downing defending NESCAC and national champ Middlebury. With the bar sufficiently raised, expect the Lords to only add to the momentum they created with their 13-game win streak that rescued them from a 5-3 start and brought them to heights reserved for the rare. Jae Heo, a 12-goal scorer as a freshman in ’08, returns to lead the offense, while goalie Leonard Kovacs and his .63 goals-against average and .838 save percentage come back to chair the defense.
If one team was to send Messiah from the Tournament last year, Newport got the closest. Up, 1-0 on Messiah in the closing minutes, the Falcons’ J.D. Binger scored with exactly a minute left to play to tie the game up. Two overtimes later, Messiah scored again – and 13 days later it had a national title. But the pain still lingers at Newport, where the Captains begin the season at No. 8 in the NSCAA preseason poll after finishing in the same spot last season – their second-highest ranking in program history. The early season may present some trouble in flow, with all-South Region honorees Kyle Allan and Brian Tweed missing at midfield, along with fellow award-winner Bryan Davis on defense. But Matt Tengs is returning in net, along with Winston Mattheisen, the Virginia SID Rookie of the Year after scoring 16 goals and adding three assists as a freshman. Mattheisen will have some help on offense, with the return of eight-goal scorer Tyler Klare, providing punch for a team that scored just under three goals a game last year.
A team that didn’t lose until the Round of 16 and then lost seven seniors, five of them NSCAA All-Region selections, Hobart presents a myriad of possibilities this fall. Will it stumble without its top three scorers, its goalie and the heart of its defense? Or will it see its returning stars rise up and explode? The foundation is there: Fourth-leading scorer Tommy Hayes now has a year of seasoning under his belt, and looks ready to help steer the offense after tallying 10 points in only six starts last year. Clancy Purcell looks to be ready for the same, assisting on six goals last year. But this season will be full of question marks – ones that, if not addressed quickly – will translate to a few losses a lot sooner than late November this year. Stay tuned.
In 2007, Loras advanced to the program’s first-ever national semifinal. In 2008, the Duhawks made it back, earning the honor of taking on a Messiah team bent on finally dismantling a team after surviving two straight double-overtime wins in the Round of 16 and quarters. The Duhawks lost, 3-0, on Dec. 5, but the statement had been made: expect to see this team in December every year. Especially when the returning cast includes people like rising junior Miguel Bonilla, whose 18 goals in 2008 were the second-most in program history. Or rising senior Justin McCord (11 goals). Or fellow senior Santiago Majia, who dished out a team-record 17 assists in ’08, surging to the Loras all-time lead in assists. If the fact that virtually all of the gears in the offense are back isn’t enough to make Loras a contender, Nate DuBois is back in net after a setting a Loras single-season record for shutouts, with 12.5 and third-best goals-against average, of .83.
Messiah’s run through the Tournament last year registered as an event both spectacular and usual. Spectacular, for its four overtime wins – two of them decided in double-OT, the final one in penalty kicks. Usual, for the sheer fact that the most dominant D-III men’s soccer team in the past decade was just regaining its rightful place as the nation’s best team in Division III. With goalie Jared Clugston back in net for his final season, expect a defense that held opponents to 0.44 goals a game in ’08 to hold firm, even with the loss of D-III Player of the Year J.D. Binger. Clugston’s one of seven seniors who’ll look to give Messiah its seventh national title in 10 years, joined by a young cast that includes reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Derek Black. Also this year, the Falcons will have a new coach, with longtime assistant Brad McCarty taking over for Dave Brandt, who takes over at Navy this fall.
The 2007 national champs came close again in ’08, falling in penalty kicks to eventual national runner-up Stevens Institute. This time around, Middlebury, the only team not named Messiah to claim a D-III crown in the past five years, looks to have another shot at taking its second championship in three years. With seven seniors returning, including all-New England defender Colin Nangle, a team that allowed only 0.36 goals a game in 2009 looks to be right around that mark this year. Now-sophomore Tyler Macnee, a third-team All-New England selection, provides a big spark on offense.
Six starters and 14 letterwinners return to a team that advanced to the national quarterfinals in ’08, including leading scorer and rising junior Christian Huelsman, whose 18 goals and 44 points both topped the Polar Bears’ charts last year. Throw in classmate Nate Bascom, who scored 16 goals himself last year and there’s a solid foundation to make a campaign for December this year. There may be some rocky stretches, as the Polar Bears seek to find a rhythm after the departures of 10 letterwinners, but this is a team that got hot at the right time last year, downing previously unbeaten Hobart in the Round of 16 to make its way to the quarters. Give them time, and then watch them go.
Two years ago, Stevens moved to the Empire 8. It’s lost just one conference game since, going 12-1-1 in the regular season and 4-0 in the conference tournament. But it’s not just the Empire 8 that concerns the Ducks – who were, not surprisingly, selected in the preseason poll to top the conference for the third straight year. After a national championship berth in 2008 that ended in a penalty-kicks loss to Messiah, they’re back to grab what got away. Led by Empire 8 Player of the Year Terrence Johnson (16 goals, 40 points), senior captain Todd Sheridan (12g, 28p) and defender Chris Faustino, this could be the year Stevens brings its first-ever national title back to Hoboken.
The Tigers, ranked fifth in the NSCAA preseason poll, made their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008. And it wasn’t until Trinity fell to Amherst in the national quarterfinals that the Tigers took their first loss of the season, when the Lords got a goal in the 87th minute to topple Trinity, then the nation’s top-ranked team at 20-0-1. This year, the Tigers’ core has been shaken with the graduations of their four All-Americans, from Tyrone Petrakis to Noe Casanova to Patrick Floeck to Michael Roberston. The losses abound, yes, but so does the potential for the ’09 squad. Cameron Hogsett, who netted 12 goals and added seven assists in 2008 is a junior now, and could be one of the nation’s most dangerous attackers this year. He’ll run the show up front with fellow forward Ben Grossman, who, despite starting only eight games last year, scored 13 goals and should benefit from a regular spot in the starting lineup. On defense, Patrick Johnson’s back in net for his senior season after posting an 0.87 GAA and .766 save percentage last year, while Alan Llobet returns to lead the back line.
York didn’t technically lose a single game last year. It just, as the saying goes, ran out of time. More specifically, it fell, 2-1 in penalty kicks to Johns Hopkins after a 0-0 contest in the Round of 16. The fact that York’s season ended in a game in which it didn’t allow any official goals attested to the kind of season that the Spartans put together: an 18-0 regular season that saw York trample eight NCAA Tournament-bound teams – including Messiah – and watched the Spartans post the country’s best goals-against average, at .15. That’s three goals allowed. All season. Seven seniors have departed, including goalie Kyle Marks, who allowed only two goals last year, but back this year for a team that also finished in the top-20 in offense is first-team All-American and CAC Player of the Year Jon Ports (11g, 32p) at forward. He’ll be joined by sophomore forward Kemal Nuspahic (11g, 28p), the reigning conference Rookie of the Year. Defensively, York will need to find replacements for some departed backs, with only Trey Good returning as the only regular defensive starter from last year.