July 24, 2001
After a season like 2000 where the Boston College men's soccer team exceeded everyone else's expectations but its own, head coach Ed Kelly is looking for more of the same from his crew in 2001. Nay-sayers may still believe that last season was an aberration, but Kelly and his charges believe that it was just the start of something great.
Last season brought the national spotlight back to the Heights. The Eagles won the BIG EAST Tournament after a third-place regular-season finish. Though not special on its own, taken in historical context, the finish was monumental. BC was picked to finish ninth - in a 12-team league - in the preseason coaches' poll. After all, this was a team that had only accumulated 11 total wins in the previous two years. The senior class had not seen a winning season since arriving in Chestnut Hill. But that all changed early on in 2000.
After a loss to open the season, BC went on a run that saw inspired team soccer throughout the rest of the season. The Eagles had one of the nation's best defenses and had the potential to have one of the more explosive offenses in the region. All the pieces came together and BC finished the season at 12-7-1, became BIG EAST champions and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.
Led by first team All-American Chris Hamblin in goal and BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year Casey Schmidt up front, the Eagles proved everybody wrong by winning with heart, desire and a true team mentality.
Much the same is expected this season. BC returns its top seven scorers and an experienced defensive corps. The team learned how to play together last season and lost only a few regular players to graduation. With experience and familiarity throughout the roster, and the test of playing in big games behind it, the team is ready to take the field in 2001. Coupled with talented newcomers, Boston College is looking to return to its newly earned place among the best in the league, region and nation.
Hamblin, a four-year starter, first team All-American and team leader, has graduated and taken his 0.84 goals against average with him. But the Eagles are not worried. Two goalkeepers are left who have proven themselves in practice and scrimmages. Junior Danny Caruso and sophomore Greg Bertleff will vie for time in the nets this season, both solid and ready for the challenge of anchoring the Eagles defense.
Caruso, who saw 45 minutes of game time last season, is expected to earn the starting nod coming into the season. In the final regular season game, Caruso played the entire second half to earn the win in the Eagles' 1-0 victory over Brown.
His style is much different than Hamblin's. Nearly seven inches taller than Hamblin, Caruso has the ability to cover more of the net and take away the angles without going so far out in the box. Though taller, Caruso also demonstrated that he still the mobility and dexterity to scramble for the ball in crowds.
"In practice, Danny has shown us that he's a great shot-blocker and does very well in the air. We're hoping that carries over into the season," Kelly says.
Bertleff split the time in net with Caruso during the spring season and showed a strong sense for the collegiate game. He gained valuable training last season training with Hamblin.
The Eagles return three of the four starting backs from the nation's eighth-best defense in 2000 and Kelly expects more of the same type of performance this season from his veterans and newcomers.
One of those veterans Kelly returns is three-time captain Paul Bourke. A mainstay for the past two years, Bourke regained a year of eligibility after he suffered through a 1998 season marred with injuries. The Cork, Ireland native provides steady and reliable defense, setting the defense from the center back position.
"Paul is a leader on and off the field. He anchors the defense and gives us very strong, heady play back there," Kelly says.
Also returning with an added year of eligibility is Martin Cantillo. After sitting out his junior year, Cantillo returned in 2000 as one of only two Eagles (with Bourke) to start all 20 games. A right back, the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native gave the squad a physical threat and a calm reliability that helped keep the backfield in line.
"Martin had a great year last year and was Mr. Consistency for us," Kelly says. "He was very underrated by opposing coaches and was one of the best backs in the region. We're hoping he picks up where he left off last season."
The final returning starter is sophomore Kenny Adams. As a freshman left back, he stepped in and started from the outset of the season.
"Kenny surprised us all last year by earning a starting role as a freshman. He wasn't recruited and came in and turned some heads with his play. We'll be expecting more of the same from him this season," Kelly says.
Paul Chase, a sophomore transfer from Providence College who joins the Eagles this season, will also be expected to join the backfield and help solidify the Eagle defense. A local product from Weymouth, Mass., he started his collegiate career with the Friars in 1999, but took the 2000 season off to change schools. A strong defender, he started his career in the midfield, but Kelly will play him at back since he brings a very tenacious defense to the field.
"Paul brings a lot of experience with him. He will help improve the backfield and is a great all-around player," Kelly says.
Guy Melamed, a newcomer from Israel, has played on the Israeli junior national team. He should bring solid, experienced play to the team in his first season.
Pat Haggerty, a freshman from Lawrenceville, N.J., was an All-East performer last season in high school, and Brendan Burke, a freshman from St. John's (Shrewsbury) and Hopedale, Mass., should also see some time in the backfield.
Seniors Bryan Rose, who dressed for the BIG EAST Championship game, and Chris Powell, who saw limited time last year, will both provide solid, experienced depth in the backfield.
Kelly benefits from experience in the midfield this season. He returns four players who saw most of the action in the unit last season, though one will play primarily as a forward. Only Sjur Gundersen graduated, leaving Kelly with a tried and tested starting corps in 2001.
Returning for his final year, senior captain Chris Cleary will lead the young and talented midfield unit. Last season, the 2001 McElroy Award winner posted career numbers in the scoring column and gave his body up for the play regularly. Cleary scored a career-high five goals that included four game-winners. Two of those came in overtime, including the decisive tally that gave the Eagles a 2-1, extra-session victory in the BIG EAST Quarterfinals over Georgetown. An emotional leader on the field, Cleary enters his final season ready for bigger things.
"Chris developed into our field leader last year and that's a role we need him to continue in this season," Kelly says. "He's one of the most dangerous players on the field for us and creates problems for defenders. He had a great season offensively last year and we're looking for more of the same this year."
Junior Bobby Thompson exploded at the end of the season and scored four of his five goals in the last quarter of the schedule. After late-season encouragement from his coaches and teammates, Thompson headed into the NCAA Tournament on a five-game scoring streak and had netted three game-winning goals in the last six games of the season. For his late-season emergence, he was named the Most Outstanding Performer of the BIG EAST Tournament. The Framingham, Mass. product showed the brilliance that befuddled defenders and terrorized opposing teams throughout the state in high school. Either as a creator or scorer, Thompson managed to drive the opposition crazy with his top technical level.
"Bobby is one of the most talented players we put on the field. He has grown considerably over the past two years, both physically and mentally. He is always looking and has amazing vision. He is more of a creator and a play maker who can quarterback our offense, but he showed last season that he can certainly score when he wants to," Kelly says.
Rounding out the returning starters, sophomore Kirt Dorsett is looking to return to the same form that earned him a place on the BIG EAST All-Rookie team last year. Dorsett started all but one game last season and proved to be a formidable player in the Eagles' transition game. A player with a special talent for disturbing the opponent's offense and intercepting clearing passes, the native of Arima, Trinidad, stepped right in and gave the Eagles' midfield a level of defensive stability.
"Last season, we asked Kirt to play a more defensive midfield position that he's used to, but he'll have more freedom this season to be creative. We're hoping that he'll take the new role and become another offensive threat for us," Kelly says.
Bill Arnault, a freshman from Clay, N.Y., is concluding a summer stint with the U.S. National Under-18 team. A high school All-American, he should step in and take over the defensive midfield position for Kelly and work to shore up the defensive transition.
"Bill is a strong, quick player and one of our most promising recruits. After spending the summer with the junior national team, he'll be in game shape and the experience he gained on the national and international level will be unmatched," Kelly says.
Other players who will be counted upon to stabilize the midfield and provide depth are juniors Zach Bouchard and Johnathan Munko. Both players have starting experience and can help lead the young squad.
Kelly has many options up front. He returns the BIG EAST's Offensive Player of the Year in Schmidt and also has three other experienced players to slot in the two attack positions, plus the addition of two newcomers.
Last season, Schmidt led the Eagles in scoring for the second-straight year. A strong player on both sides of the ball, the Newbury Park, Calif., native had a knack of finding the back of the net in big games. In 2000, the Eagles were 8-0-1 when he scored, including a win and a tie against Top 10 teams.
Others took notice and he became the focus of many defenses, but was still able to lead the team with his play and resilient attitude. Even playing the last half of the season with a severe leg injury that forced him to miss three games, Schmidt persevered and led the team offensively. As a result, Kelly chose Schmidt as a team captain in 2001.
After a tremendous summer playing with the Cap Cod Crusaders of the Premier Development League (along with Chase and Pfeifer) where he's among the league leaders in scoring, Schmidt will be ready to take the field this fall.
"Casey has had a tremendous career so far and he'll only be a junior," Kelly says. "He is a producer and he's able to be in the right place at the right time to pick up passes and receive serves. He has remarkable skills once he gets the ball, one-on-one and or against defenders. We'll be looking for more of the same from Casey this year."
Sophomore Adam Pfeifer split time in the midfield and at forward last year, leading the team in with six assists. One of the team's fastest players, Pfeifer was able to speed past defenders when covered or sneak behind the defense when he was left alone. The Newton, Mass., native created havoc all while playing with a painful foot injury. In 2001, healthy and ready to pick up where he left off, Kelly is expecting more out of Pfeifer.
"Adam is so dangerous with his speed and his skill level. Last season, he was a bit snake-bitten in terms of goal scoring, but played a great role as a set-up man and was a general threat all year," Kelly says.
Joining the tandem up front is sophomore Ramon Smith. The Brockton, Mass., resident came up big, displaying the speed and nose for the goal that made him shine at St. George's (Jamaica). After a season to hone his attack skills, Smith should be ready to step up and make a great impact on the field.
Senior Eyvind Aasen will also have the opportunity to show his skills in his final year.
Neil Krause, a sophomore transfer from Div. II Assumption College, will bring a potent attack to the Heights after leading the Greyhounds in scoring with 16 goals in 2000.
Freshman Junior Desrosiers could also earn time at forward this season.
Thompson and Cleary can also be rotated onto the forward line. Both have seen time there over their careers and have proven to be effective at the position.
While Kelly has added several new opponents to the schedule this season, the Eagles will still be facing its stiffest competition in BIG EAST games. In 2000, the conference was the third-toughest in the nation (according to the season-ending RPI ratings) as eight of the league's 12 teams were ranked in the nation's Top 25 at some point during the season. In 2001, due to the league's rotating 10-game schedule, the Eagles will not face two of those ranked teams, St. John's and Rutgers.
BC kicks off the season the last day in August against BIG EAST rival Syracuse. After a non-league match against St. Francis (N.Y.) at home on Sept. 5, BC will face Seton Hall on the road on Sept. 8 in a rematch of the 2000 BIG EAST Championship title game.
The following weekend, Kelly will take his troops to Penn State for the Nike Classic. On consecutive days, the Eagles will face traditional powers Ohio State and Penn State on Sept. 14 and 15. The Eagles will stay on the road for another weekend and travel to Blacksburg, Va. to square off with Virginia Tech (Sept. 22), playing its first season in the BIG EAST.
The next week of the schedule sees cross-town rivals Harvard (Sept. 26) and Boston University (Sept. 29) before the Eagles go right into a five-game stretch against BIG EAST foes Villanova (Oct. 7), Connecticut (Oct. 10), West Virginia (Oct. 14), Providence (Oct. 17) and Notre Dame (Oct. 20). Last year, BC went 3-1-1 against those teams and will be looking to improve on that this season. The UConn game, played under the lights in Storrs, Conn., will pit the defending national champion Huskies against one of the only teams to take a point from them last season.
After a non-league game against Dartmouth at home next on Oct. 24, BC will play Georgetown (Oct. 28) and Brown (Oct. 31) before closing at Pittsburgh on Nov. 4.
The BIG EAST Tournament begins the following weekend at campus sites and BC will again be aiming for a top-four league finish and the home-field advantage in the quarterfinals.
"Last season, our team goal was to surprise a few teams and sneak into the top four teams in the league for a home quarterfinal game," Kelly says. "We accomplished that and even finished third in the league after being picked ninth in the preseason. We knew what we had for a team and how we played the season before. Now, the rest of the league knows who we are, too.
"The team fought through a lot of things last season and had one of the most successful seasons in school history. I would expect more of the same out of this team this season. Winning attitudes are contagious and I hope it infects the team again this season."