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Coming off championship year, men’s soccer falls to 5th

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The men’s soccer team (9-7-1 overall, 3-4 in Ivies) finished its season on national television Friday night at Dartmouth (5-1-1), falling 2-0. The Bears finished fifth place in the Ivy League after going undefeated and winning their conference last year. David Walls ’11 said this was one of the worst seasons for the men’s soccer program in quite some time.

“We never dealt with setbacks well all season,” Walls said. “We came from behind once against Princeton – that’s what cost us in so many games. That’s really no excuse. We should have been a more mentally strong team.”

Despite losing the last five of six games in the season, the senior class of Rhett Bernstein ’09, Darren Howerton ’09, Will Lee ’09, Jarrett Leech ’09 and captains Stephen Sawyer ’09 and Dylan Sheehan ’09 ended their careers as one of the most successful classes ever at Brown. This group of men went to three NCAA tournaments, advancing to the second round each year, winning two conference championships, finishing above .500 every season and receiving many all-conference awards over the past four years.

The Big Green struck first in the game when Andrew Olsen scored the eventual game winner in the 19th minute of play, putting the ball past starting goalie Paul Grandstrand ’11. The Bears tried to clear the ball out of the box, but they were not expecting the quick shot.

Brown did not produce very many offensive looks during the first half. This trend continued on into the second half as they could not find the back of the net, extending their scoreless streak to three games.

“In years past, Brown teams are resilient in coming back,” said Head Coach Mike Noonan. “And with this year’s team, when we tried, we just couldn’t seem to get back on top of it. I don’t have a lot of answers as to why, it was just difficult for this team to come back from being a goal down.”

Brown’s first attack of the second half came in the 53rd minute when an unselfish extra pass proved to be too much for Austin Mandel ’12, who finally got a foot on the ball as the Big Green goalie awaited him. Several minutes later, Jon Okafor ’11 sent a header off of a corner just wide of the net.

Dartmouth’s Lucky Mkosana timed his run perfectly, avoiding the offsides call and shot past the Bears’ defense. He faked to the outside and jumped over Grandstrand and fired a shot on a wide open net. The Big Green finished out the game, sending the Bears home with their fourth conference loss on the year, 2-0. Leech came in to finish the game in goal.

“We’ve been averaging about two defensive lapses per game in the last few contests – and this was another one,” Noonan said. “For a team that’s struggling for goals, the defense has a lot on their shoulders. They feel like they can’t make a mistake. After the team goes down one, it feels like they have to climb a mountain to get back on top.”

Dartmouth emerged as conference champion with the win, for its eighth title in school history.

Overall, the players and coaches agree the team did not live up to the expectations set before them at the beginning of the season. The team hoped to return strong in the Ivy League and defend its title, return to the NCAA tournament and make it past the second round.

Walls said he felt there were not as many positives, especially after the 15-2-1 season the team put together last year.

“The past two seasons have been two extremes – a miracle season as one of the top teams in the country to underachieving and finishing below .500 in conference,” Walls said. “But we had a solid win at BC and went for a stretch of 500 minutes without allowing a goal. A lot of freshmen also got a lot of playing time, creating depth.”

Noonan said he was proud of the freshmen and their ability to step up. He said they played more minutes than was usually expected of them.

“Because of some of the trials we’ve faced this year, we’ll be more battle-tested,” Noonan said. “You learn more from losing than you do from wining. Right now, the entire team is very humbled.”

The Bears will be a young team next season as they lose six seniors to graduation. Walls said he believes the team needs to improve with baby steps to restore Brown’s strong soccer tradition.

“We have to put things right because Brown is a strong program – we need to keep that going,” Walls said. “Everybody on the team understands this, and we’re prepared to take on that responsibility. Our goals will not be set lower than any other year.”

Lauding his senior class, Noonan said he believes they have left a high standard of success and the hard work it took to get there.

“They have crafted a nice legacy in the history of the soccer program,” Noonan said. “They went undefeated with no ties in League play last year. Very rarely do any teams go undefeated in conference play, only two times in the past 30 years (out of any Ivy team). I’m proud of them, I hope that their memories will live with them for the rest of their lives.”

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