Sept. 2, 2010
EVANSTON, Ill. -
Some teams rebuild and others reload. Northwestern's men's soccer program reinvents itself from year to year. No matter whether it's building around a high-powered attack or a dominating defense, the Wildcats have established themselves on the national scene and have earned invitations to the NCAA tournament four straight years.
NU returns seven starters from last year's team that went 11-5-4 and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tourney, narrowly missing out on its third trip to the quarterfinals over a four-year span. The 'Cats enter the 2010 preseason ranked No. 9 in the NSCAA rankings.
Exactly what identity this year's squad takes on is still to be determined, but Northwestern has come to expect success, no matter what its strength may be.
"We are veteran in the midfield and in attack," Northwestern head coach Tim Lenahan said. "This year's team should be able to keep the ball and hopefully score more goals than we have the past couple years where we have relied on our team organization and defense.
"It is a group that expects to build on the success of the last few years and should have the talent to do that. While there are no dominant personalities with this group, I think this team will have more of a group leadership mindset that has been successful in the past.
"We always enter the season with the same primary goals: Be the best overall experience in college soccer and make the NCAA tournament. Having great guys who believe in the program is what makes it such a great experience for the players. With that said, we need to be successful on the field and seeing your name on the board come November is the best indicator that you have achieved that goal. Once we get to that level, we re-establish our post-season goals, become a tough out at NCAA time and look to make a deep run. That being said, you have to be in it to win it."
Northwestern's star power begins up front with senior forward Matt Eliason
. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Eliason enters his final season at NU tied for the school career record with 30 goals. His 13 tallies a year ago led the Big Ten, as did his six game-winning tallies.
"Matt is just a pure goal scorer who has scored at every level. Two years ago, he led the Fire U-20 to a national championship with six goals in four games and this year led their U-23s to a national championship with another six goals over five games. When it is all said and done, he will be remembered as one of the best scorers in not only Northwestern but also Big Ten history."
Eliason's 13 goals in 2009 were nearly half of the team's total of 28. The Wildcats have a number of other individuals who they hope can take some of the scoring burden off of Eliason. Seniors Piero Bellizzi and Jack Hillgard both return after notching four goals apiece last season, while NU is looking for a breakthrough season from Oliver Kupe. The physical junior scored two goals a year ago, but tied for the Big Ten lead with seven assists.
"Obviously, having Matt's goal-scoring ability is a great strength for this team.
Oliver Kupe really made a big step forward last year leading the conference in assists and we are hoping to add goal-scoring to his arsenal. Piero Bellizzi returns for his senior season intent on recapturing the form that had him as Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2007. Redshirt freshman Nick Gendron was one of our best players in the spring and freshman Reed Losee enters as a player who has scored a ton of goals in high school and was one of the leading scorers in the country among players in the U.S. Developmental Academy."
Northwestern's depth in the midfield may be its greatest strength and has allowed Lenahan to move some players around to cover up graduation losses in the back. Hillgard is a presence in the air who scored three times on headers a year ago, including twice in a victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. A trio of talented sophomores are also back in the mix as Chris Ritter and Kyle Schickel were both Big Ten All-Freshman Team selections, while Jarrett Baughman started both of the team's NCAA tournament matches.
"I thought Jack Hillgard and Chris Ritter really gave us a formidable tandem in the middle of the field. Jack is solid and steady and Chris has really emerged as one of the better center mids in the Big Ten. Lucas Swertloff, who has been nagged by injuries, played very well and started to put his stamp on the team as a leader heading into his senior year. Although he is not the biggest player on the field, his vision, speed and soccer IQ will make freshman Lepe Seetane an impact player right away and, I would expect, a fan favorite as well.
"Jarrett Baughman and Nick Gendron were the two most pleasant surprises. John Rogers, Michael Walbridge, Pat Gibson and Jason Drews all made positive impacts with their performance defensively as we only allowed three goals all spring."
For the Wildcats to succeed in 2010, they'll need to account for losses in the back. Gone due to graduation is two-time All-American Mark Blades, in addition to another starter, Pat Coleman. However, Northwestern has senior Cody Stanley back in the mix to provide leadership and experience.
"Cody Stanley is the anchor of our defense in the back. Now a senior, he will be a three-year starter who is now a captain and leader of the group. Jarrett Baughman really stepped up for us in they post-season last year when Cody broke his jaw, starting against both Notre Dame and Tulsa in the NCAA tournament and doing a phenomenal job. This spring we played with Peter O'Neill and Kyle Schickel in the back which really made us dangerous coming forward out of the back since they have been primarily attacking players to date. Although, it is difficult to play in the back as a freshman, we have a very talented group who could play in the back in Scott Lakin, Connor Holloway and Layth Masri who could find time."
The one position that is up for grabs for Northwestern is in goal where the team must replace Misha Rosenthal, the top keeper in program history. The Wildcats feel they have a solid trio who will battle it out to win the job. Junior Drew Kotler and sophomore Jonathan Harris both split playing time in 2009 while Rosenthal was sidelined due to injury, while redshirt freshman Tommy Tombridge was waiting in the wings.
"We have a real dog fight to be the starting goalkeeper which I think is a good thing. All three have their strengths. Drew Kotler has great quickness and a
steady personality, Jonathan Harris has great presence in the goal and Tommy Tombridge has a great training routine in that he brings it every day. All three had a solid spring and I am excited that the competition within their group will bring out the best in all of them."