Soccer's Paul Gerstenberger Discusses Upcoming NCAA Tournament
Nov. 27, 2007
Junior fullback Paul Gerstenberger received ACC All-Tournament honors after helping lead Boston College to its first ACC Tournament title. Gerstenberger registered one goal and one assist in the semifinal-round victory over Virginia Tech. The Schenectady, N.Y., native has tallied 13 points on four goals and five assists this season. Gerstenberger and the Eagles open NCAA Tournament play against UMass on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at Newton Campus Field.
Congratulations on receiving ACC All-Tournament Team honors. How do you think the tough ACC Tournament matches will prepare you for the upcoming NCAA Tournament?
Going through the season, it was a hard season. We won a lot of good games. We came out of nowhere. No one really thought that we were any good. So we won the league and went to the tournament and we were thinking, `let's win a couple games at least and give us a really good seeding for the tournament.' All of a sudden, we went on a roll and won the whole thing. Now we're looking at it like we have the experience. We played Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, two of the top teams in the country, again, so now we're like we can play anybody, we can beat anybody. We've proven that again because we've beaten them (VT and WF) twice this year, each. I think our team has a lot of momentum. There is a lot of confidence on our team right now. That should really show Wednesday night and then through the tournament as we keep going.
After winning dual ACC titles, Boston College has earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Talk about what it means to be able to open the tournament at home on Wednesday night.
Playing at home is always an advantage. We have a good crowd and we're a lot more confident at home with our own locker room and stuff like that. We thought we'd be a top-four seed after winning the tournament, but getting the No. 1 seed and surprising everybody is a great thing. Playing at home in front of our fans, people can come watch us and we can show everyone around the northeast that we can play and that we can win this whole thing. It's a good opportunity for us to play at home.
What has Coach Kelly emphasized in practice as you prepare for Wednesday night's game?
He's pretty calm. I think he knows that we're calm. I think he likes when we're loose because that's when we're at our best. When there's no pressure, we play better. He's just been watching, overseeing practice and letting us do our thing. That's where a lot of the guys come out of their shells. We start playing, we start having fun, and that's when we're really on a roll, when we're loose and relaxed. Our group of guys, we have fun. Our locker room is really fun. You go in there and everyone's having a good time. There's no hatred between anyone. We're all really friendly. I'd say it's a perfect team. It's probably the best team I've been on here at BC. We've had good teams in the past, but this locker room, we're so close, we're all friends, we all hang out, we all talk about the same stuff, and we all get along. Everyone is comfortable with each other, so it's so much easier out on the field. Every day going to practice is fun. It's not like, "Oh, it's practice." We have great chemistry on and off the field. Everyone just gets their job done.
Boston College has not faced UMass since 1988. What can you tell us about the Minutemen?
We don't really know much. We've heard a few things here and there from the coaches or from talking amongst ourselves. We've talked between teammates like, "Oh, I heard this." But I think we're just going to take it as they're another team to beat. We know what we have to do to beat anybody, so we know that we have to play our game more than worry about what they do. We haven't heard much about them, but I think we're more focused on our starting 11 and our team and our coaches. If we do what we can do, we can definitely win it.
Is there a difference in mentality and preparation when it comes to tournament games versus regular-season games?
This is my first time in the NCAA Tournament. We didn't make it the last two years, so this is our first one. I think nerves are starting to come because if you lose, you're out. Right now, I think we're loose, but we know that in two days it's win or go home. Nerves are starting to come in, but I think with leaders like Chris Brown and Alejandro Bedoya and Reuben Ayarna, they're really keeping us chilled out and we're ready to go.
How would you describe your own game? Your strengths? What you try to do?
My strengths would probably be I'm a good passer with the ball. I like to pass. I slide tackle pretty well. I like to get up and down. I like to keep possession. I like to have freedom on the field, which Ed Kelly gives me. I've really stepped up my game this year. I've had some goals and some assists, which came out of nowhere, so I'm pretty happy.
What is your role as a fullback - on offense and defense?
Defensively, our back four is a really tight group. We don't like to get scored on, so our mentality is no goals at all. Our other outside defender, Stephen Hepburn, and I, we just take our chances and go for it when we can. Our coaches just tell us to be smart about it. They tell us to be smart and protect the defense first. It's worked really well for us, so we've been doing pretty well.
Defense has definitely been a key to the team's great success this season. What makes your defensive unit so tough to beat?
Idan Shefler and Jamie Melas, our centerbacks are probably the best centerback tandem in the ACC. They tackle really well, they're organized. That's what makes us so great is that we're so organized. I have friends on other teams and they always say it's hard to break you guys down because you guys are so organized and work well together. I think it's all about organization with us. We just work together and we just don't want to give up goals and that's what makes us a good team. And then having a 6'5" goalie back there is pretty intimidating, so it definitely helps us out.
Talk about Chris Brown. How much difference does it make in the way the defense plays knowing you have a goalkeeper like him behind you? How do the defenders work with the goalkeeper?
Knowing he's back there, it's like a brick wall. You know he's behind you. You know that if there's a ball over your head that he's going to come and get it. I almost got knocked out a couple times by turning around and seeing him coming right at me in the air. He provides a safety back there. You know if you get beat that he's going to come up with a big save, which he's had in lots of games. He's a leader. He's always talking. He's always motivating. In the locker room, he's like another coach at all times. Guys can go to him. They look up to him.
Give us your thoughts on the freshmen and the contributions they've made this season.
The freshmen came in and from day one have made an impact on our team. They start, they come off the bench, they give us minutes, they do everything we need them to do. Karl Reddick is starting in the midfield. He's made a lot of plays. Shawn Chin has scored goals. He's made a lot of plays. Jeremiah Gallington has come in and made a lot of plays, too. That's what we need is a whole team thing. For them to come in young on a big stage in the ACC and to perform every game, they've shown me a lot. They've earned the respect of everybody and they're great players.
Talk about some of your other teammates that you think have really stepped it up this year.
It's hard to pick out any in particular because everyone on the team has contributed either in practice or during games. There are guys like Ryan Sherman; Greg O'Neil has come off the bench. They give us a lot of minutes. Reuben Ayarna is probably the best midfielder I've ever seen. He's amazing. Sherron Manswell, he's a senior. In his last year, for us to be doing all this with him and for him is awesome. He's a huge threat for us, great player. Stephen Hepburn...There are so many guys. I couldn't name them all. Every game for us there has been a new player that has stepped up and scored goals out of nowhere. That's what makes us a great team.
I'm sure schoolwork and soccer are your top priorities, but what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
We play video games. We always mess around. We'll go to the mall or something. We'll just hang out and watch TV, watch sports. We have a close group of guys. We like to have fun. We like to joke around with each other. We like to prank each other. We definitely have a good time and let it loose. We're good friends.
Interview conducted by sophomore Geoffrey Kehlmann