M. soccer ready to build on last year’s success

Thursday, September 4, 2008

After such a successful 2007 campaign, it is hard to imagine the men’s soccer team could be even better this year. But nonetheless, that is the team’s goal.

The 2007 squad turned in an astounding 15-2-1 overall record, an undefeated Ivy League championship, an NCAA tournament berth and a No. 11 finish in the season’s final poll. The Bears will return nine starters, including preseason All-American defender Rhett Bernstein ’09, returning captain Stephen Sawyer ’09, as well as a core of experienced players returning from last year’s squad. However, Head Coach Mike Noonan doesn’t want the team to rely on its success from last season.

“From my perspective, we’ve been focusing on this year,” Noonan said. “Every team is different and it’s a brand new year.”

This year there are high expectations for the team once again.

“We were successful last year and are trying to build on it,” said goalie Paul Grandstrand ’11 . “We still need to remember how much work it took to get there and put that same amount of effort into this season.”

Noonan builds his team’s schedule around challenging opponents that he knows his team is capable of beating. The Bears could start off 0-5 or 5-0 based on the stiff competition they face at the beginning of each year.

“We have set a good standard nationally for ourselves,” said midfielder-defender David Walls ’11. “We are returning nine starters with some experience. It’s easier to deal with pressure situations.” Walls said that every opponent Brown crosses this season will give the squad a good game, as those teams are fired up about trying to upset a strong program.

The Ivy League schedule once again looks to be a challenge; the league has produced a number of successful teams over the years, including Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard. Because the soccer season is short, with only 17 games on the schedule, there is no opportunity to play league foes more than once. Conference play is worth a lot to a team when there is no postseason conference tournament to redeem a loss.

“The Ivy League is competitive,” Grandstrand said. “You win games by having more concentration and greater focus than talent.”

Four seniors graduated from last year’s squad. Eight freshmen and one transfer have replaced them. With a strong returning group and a talented freshmen class, there will be healthy competition for playing time. The Bears have greater depth than in years past.

“We have to throw some guys out there in the first couple of weeks. It’s the only way they’ll get any experience,” Noonan said. “We’ll see how the new ones mesh into the nucleus already out on the field.”

The Bears ended last season with a heartbreaking 2-1 double-overtime loss to Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA tournament that no returning player has been able to forget.

“We’re all hungry for the up-coming season,” said M-D Jon Okafor ’11.

The Bears, No. 12 in the NSCAA/Adidas Division I rankings, kick off their season by hosting the Adidas-Brown Classic on Stevenson Field. Bruno faces No. 22 St. John’s on Friday at 7:30, and then closes the tournament against Villanova on Sunday at 2:30. No. 2 Boston College rounds out the Classic’s lineup.

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