Aug. 29, 2003
BALTIMORE, MD - After winning the last two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) titles and qualifying for two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, Loyola's men's soccer team has come to expect success as annual rites of fall. Once again the Greyhounds have been selected as the league's preseason favorite and the journey begins this Saturday versus No. 22 Syracuse at the Germantown Soccerplex at 7 p.m.
Loyola returns five starters while Syracuse brings back nine starters off an 8-8-2 team a year ago. The Orangemen handed Loyola one if its five losses last season (the 'Hounds went 13-5-3), defeating them 2-1. The Greyhounds traditionally start strong and are 38-19-3 in season openers alltime.
Two excellent senior classes lost to graduation (2001 and 2002) will be a lot to overcome. So will losing two-time MAAC Player of the Year Niall Lepper and four-time MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year Reb Beatty, but the Greyhounds are confident that new faces will step forward by season's end.
Three battle-tested seniors will lead Loyola into the regular season, but they will look for help and coach Mettrick expects them to get it.
"We'll be leaning on our upperclassmen to lead, but also expect contributions from our freshmen and sophomores," says Loyola fourth-year head coach Mark Mettrick. "If we're going to be successful this season, we're going to have to have immediate contributions from our freshman class."
While trying to mend this young, inexperienced team together, the Greyhounds will be facing the top teams in college soccer along with their always-grueling MAAC schedule. Loyola is slated to face nationally ranked Syracuse in the season-opener and then take on 2002 NCAA tournament qualifiers Maryland, Pennsylvania and American along with Ivy League powers Princeton and Cornell.
"Our out-of-conference schedule is extremely demanding," says Mettrick. "But we want to play at the highest level of Division I soccer so we have to do it."
Mettrick, who has amassed a 42-11-6 record at Loyola while leading the Greyhounds to three MAAC regular season titles, two MAAC championships, and two NCAA berths, including an appearance in the 2001 NCAA tournament round of 16, says he feels that the MAAC schedule will be much tougher in 2003 than in years past.
"The talent-gap between the top and bottom tiers of the MAAC is shrinking and there should be much more parody in the league this season," says Mettrick."I think there will be a lot of MAAC teams gunning for us in 2003 after having won the league the last two years, but I think that comes with the territory of being successful."
Successful is something that the Greyhounds feel they can be every year because the players they have are among the best that Division I soccer has to offer. Loyola's goal of qualifying for and advancing in the NCAA tournament is a constant and that is the sort of tradition that Mettrick is building.
"Every year we have a strong desire to compete in the national tournament," says Mettrick. "I think the national tournament is a very rich experience and I want all of our players to have the unique opportunity to compete in that situation."
The Greyhounds know the road won't be easy in 2003. Here's a look, position by position, at those players who hope to be competing in this year's postseason.
Forward: Having up to six players with the capability to start up top, the forward position is arguably Loyola's strongest.
"If any position on the team is deep, it's up front," says Mettrick. "It's an unusual situation for college teams to be so deep at forward."
Leading this corps is sophomore Vinnie Piscopo, who led Loyola in goals scored last season with seven. Piscopo also tacked on six assists to finish tied for the team lead in points with 20, earning him a spot on the 2002 MAAC All-Rookie team. Piscopo, who has been selected by the league's coaches to the 2003 preseason first-team All-MAAC, is a "brave player with a knack for scoring goals," according to Mettrick.
Kevin Nash, the lone upper-classmen on the front line, should become a regular starter in 2003 after playing key reserve roles his first two years. Nash is a player that has scored some big goals coming off the bench in his career as a Greyhound. The coaches say Nash is a very intelligent player with a good touch who puts himself in good spots and has composure around the goal. He will get help from sophomore Nate Lyden, who tallied nine points in his freshman campaign. Mettrick calls him a "deceptive, highly skilled player who is tough to knock off the ball."
Lyden, a player with a lot of creative ability going forward, scored one of the biggest goals of Loyola's season last year when he found the back of the net versus Siena in the MAAC semifinal.
A fresh face is Omar Alfonso, who comes to Evergreen as a highly touted recruit from New York City. As a prepster, Alfonso played for the USYSA Region I team for five years and the ENYS Olympic Development team for three years. Alfonso also scored an impressive 76 goals for his high school squad en route to having his number retired, just one year after graduating.
Mark Donnelly is a sophomore transfer from Mercer, who was a Big South Conference All-Rookie team selection last season and was third on his team in goals scored. Donnelly, a native of England, plays with a very good pace and is strong on the ball. He can play center, forward and wing and the coaches like his ability to get behind defenses, not to mention the fact that he has a very good shot.
Another newcomer on this Greyhound roster is Danny Wheelan, a member of the Scotch national team. Wheelan is a crafty, technical player that's a very good passer and joins Donnelly as a forward that can also drop back to midfield, if needed.
Coleman, a co-captain and returning starter, is the general of the midfield, who is extremely smooth on the ball and does a great job starting the attack. The senior from Long Island has been an integral part of Loyola's success over the last two years and looks to lead the Greyhounds to a third straight NCAA Tournament in his final campaign.
Jay Joyce is the team's other senior co-captain and he'll be manning one of the wide midfield slots. Like Coleman, Joyce has also been a key to Loyola's winning ways the last two years. Joyce's strengths are his high level of fitness, his tenacity, his quickness, and his great attitude.
Alecci, who has the ability to play back too, contributes both offensively and defensively and is the other wide midfielder who should start for Loyola this season after chipping in with two goals and two assists in 2002.
Sophomore Brian O'Connor tore his anterior cruciate ligament, forcing him to miss the 2003 season, but the coaching staff is expecting big things from him when he returns.
Two freshmen round out the midfield in Julian Cantillo and A.J. Spiros. Cantillo, a Florida native, is a highly technical player who possesses a good touch on the ball while Spiros is a scrappy, hard-worker who is a rugged competitor according to Mettrick.
Defense:The defense is led by junior Jim Gottermeyer, the only member of this unit that has actually seen action in a Greyhound uniform. His four cohorts include junior-transfer Chase Franklin and freshmen Rade Kokovic, Gabe Ortega, and Michael Kolosvary.
Gottermeyer plays on the left side and has a very competitive mentality. He brings a blue-collar work ethic and is good in the air. Kokovic, a freshman from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, is a solid all-around player that can play midfield as well as defense. "Rade is very comfortable on the ball," says Mettrick. "He's a great passer and is expected to be a major contributor as a freshman"
Franklin is a local product and will also be looked upon to contribute immediately. The junior from Loyola-Blakefield has excellent speed and is a very physical defender.
Ortega, another rookie, will see playing time from the start. A hard-nosed defender, Ortega has the technical ability to come out of the back with the ball and distribute effectively. He also has a lot of experience playing on U.S. Regional and Olympic Development Program teams.
Kolosvary comes into the season in great physical condition and should be another Greyhound freshman that could see some time in 2003 and become a very solid Division I player.
Peters, a brave, agile and committed player, has the most experience of the four after serving as Beatty's backup the last two years and Balaban, at 6-4, possesses solid athleticism and should compete for time. Mulcahy, the 2001 Gatorade high school Player of the Year for the state of Maryland, has great agility, is extremely aggressive, and had an excellent spring season this year. New to the program is a keeper from national power St. Benedict's Prep, Justin Chelland. Chelland has great hands and awareness and is a fierce competitor and should compete for time.
It will surely be an interesting season for the Greyhounds. Success won't necessarily be measured in wins and losses, but how well and how fast a young team with veteran leadership can gel into one cohesive unit. In early November comes the MAAC Championships, held at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. Mark Mettrick's squad isn't looking that far ahead though - No. 22 Syracuse is waiting for them this Saturday.