Friday, August 31, 2007

Men's Soccer Preview: Odds Don't Favor Hopkins Repeat

pictured: Nick Gauna, Johns Hopkins

With seven starters returning from a championship squad that finished 19-2-2 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals, one would obviously choose Johns Hopkins as the preseason favorite to win the 2007 Centennial title, right? The Conference coaches thought so, tabbing the Jays as the unanimous choice. But something odd lingers in the air in Baltimore.

Johns Hopkins has won the most Centennial titles (6) of any team in the 14-year history of the Conference. The Blue Jays hoisted the trophy in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006. Notice anything odd about those years? That's right ... Hopkins has never won the championship in an odd-numbered year? Muhlenberg has ... four times, while Gettysburg finished first in those other three "odd" years. Is this the year that JHU finally breaks through and wins an "odd-numbered" title? Or in an "Odd" twist of fate, will another team capture the crown?

Johns Hopkins will field a young team, comprised of 15 juniors and sophomores. But seven of those started and 11 saw significant playing time in 2006. Coach Matt Smith must find a replacement in goal for 2006 CC Player of the Year Danny Coble, but whoever gets the start will have three starters back from a defense that allowed 10 goals in 23 games last season. Max Venker (Oldsmar, FL / Palm Harbor University), who scored the golden goal in the CC final against Franklin & Marshall, and Nick Gauna (Evanston, IL / Evanston) will lead the offense.

Gettysburg brings back almost everyone from a 12-6-4 team that lost via penalty kicks in the CC semifinals to Hopkins. Chris Bayon (Langhorne, PA / Lawrenceville School, NJ) and Jesse Gemberling-Johnson (Wyndmoor, PA / Christopher Dock) were both first-team All-CC performers who combined for 19 goals last fall. Adam Finkel (Potomac, MD / Winston Churchill) returns in net after registering five shutouts a year ago.

Franklin & Marshall's season changed with the passing of Chris Campbell, a second-team All-Centennial midfielder, two weeks ago. If the Diplomats can come together through tragedy, F&M could get back to the Conference final for a second straight year. Brandon Corday (Morton Grove, IL / Niles Twp.) was a first-team All-America selection and the 2006 Centennial Player of the Year as a junior, scoring 12 goals with seven assists.

Swarthmore has reached the Conference semifinals in each of the last three years but has been unable to break through to the title match. This year's edition of the Garnet could be the trailblazers. Senior D Brendan Grady (San Jose, CA / Bellarmine College Prep was an All-Region pick last fall and returns to lead the defense in front of senior GK Ryan Sutcliffe (Milford, DE / Milford). Senior Pat Christmas (Chapel Hill, NC / East Chapel Hill) has started every game in his three-year career (60) and anchors the midfield. Forwards Yoi Tibbetts (Sandwich, MA / Sandwich) and Stu Leon (Wrentham, MA / King Philip Regional)shared the team lead with five goals apiece.

Muhlenberg looks to return to the Conference final four after a one-year absence with 11 upperclassmen on the roster. Senior Jonathan Kliewer (Ephrata, PA / Ephrata) anchors the midfield, along with junior Billy Dalton (Sparta, NJ / Sparta), who led the Mules with seven goals in 2006. Peter Bennett (Leola, PA / Conestoga Valley) returns in net after posting an 0.83 goals against mark last fall.

Dickinson won 10 matches for the second straight season and finished just out of the Conference playoffs. The Red Devils will be led by juniors Matt Wood (Rockville, MD / Georgetown Prep) and Paul Coyle (Kensington, MD / Georgetown Prep), who both earned second-team All-CC honors last fall at midfield and defense, respectively.

Washington will look to junior F Brian Schultz (Baltimore, MD / Calvert Hall), a second-team All-Centennial forward, to lead the offense in 2007. Senior GK Marc Petrucci (Avondale, PA / Avon Grove) is the tallest keeper in the Conference at 6-7 and returns after a six-shutout campaign in 2006.

A new era dawns at McDaniel under first-year head coach Jim Reigel. Junior F Joseph Potucek (Germantown, MD / St. John's at Prospect Hall) leads the offense after tallying four goals last fall, while senior Christian Maisel (Eldersburg, MD / Boys Latin School) returns in net. Haverford will be led by junior M Eric Kissinger (Dayton, OH / Miami Valley School), while Ursinus has a new coach in Kyle Rush.

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