Tuesday, August 30, 2016

2016 Lycoming men’s soccer preview: No ceiling

The Warriors open the 2016 season on Sept. 1 against Rowan.
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Coming off a season in which the Lycoming College men’s soccer team reached the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 for the first time in program history, winning a school-record 18 games and enjoying a 20-game unbeaten streak, it’s no surprise that expectations for the 2016 team have changed.

With all 11 starters returning, the Warriors begin the 2016 campaign ranked 10th in the NSCAA preseason poll, the first preseason ranking in program history. The team is also predicted to finish first in the MAC Commonwealth, breaking a string of at least 15 straight preseason polls where Messiah was predicted to finish first. Having won two of the last three conference titles, though, the Warriors are now out to completely change the guard at the top of the conference and make their case that they are ready to be a national contender.

“It’s exciting for the guys and the program to see some of their hard work and success be recognized,” fourth-year head coach Nate Gibboney said. “At the end of the day, we have to approach every game the same. Every team we prepare for, we know can beat us, but we feel we are at a point where if we play our best game, we are capable of beating any team on any given day.”

The stakes are as large as they have ever been, in other words, but it definitely won’t be easy. Gibboney has loaded the schedule with games against third-ranked SUNY Oneonta (Oct. 25) sixth-ranked Haverford (Sept. 11), 12th-ranked Franklin & Marshall (Sept. 4) as well as 2015 NCAA Tournament teams Rowan (Sept. 1), Eastern (Sept. 10) and Scranton (Sept. 17).

“Preseason this year hasn’t been any different than the past,” Gibboney said. “The guys have come in and they are excited for the start of the season. We are all trying to get on the same page. We have brought in a fantastic group of freshmen along with a lot of returning guys. If you look ahead, the schedule is going to be difficult, but for our guys right now, we are just trying to take it day-by-day and prepare for the opener against Rowan.”

Even after averaging 2.36 goals per game in 2015, the Warriors have added to the already potent offense, with a group of two freshmen joining a group of three returners up top that will all be competing for action as strikers.

“We return a lot of our goal scorers and assist leaders from last season,” Gibboney said. “We have a lot of experience with that group. They all work extremely hard. That is one of the things that we pride ourselves on. When you combine some of the skill and the experience that these guys have, we are hoping to give teams a lot of trouble.”

Junior Duc Momo (Silver Spring, Md./Bethesda-Chevy Chase) heads the group, as the Honorable Mention All-MAC Commonwealth selection returns after posting a goal and an assist while serving as the team’s top striker in 2015.

Junior Nathan Harding (Secretary, Md./North Dorcester) returns healthy after fighting through a variety of injuries in his first two years. One of the shiftiest players on the team, the 5-8 striker has five goals in his career.

Adding depth to the position, freshmen Daniel Anwanwan (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) and Steven Riad (Bethlehem, Pa./Freedom) had distinguished prep careers and will compete immediately for minutes.

“There’s not going to be one or two guys for other teams to key on,” Gibboney said. “We feel on any given day any one of our front five guys can score a goal in a game. We are deep enough where guys can come off the bench and give not just good minutes, but fill the stat sheet with goals and assists.”

Sophomore Even Zewe (Lewistown, Pa./Mifflin County) will also look for playing time.

With two all-region selections and three all-conference picks returning, the Warriors will have an experienced and talented core to combine with a group of seven newcomers.

“We return guys who have played in big games, scored significant goals and logged big minutes for us,” Gibboney said. “The difference for them this year is a new level of maturity. As sophomores, they were good players, but they hadn’t played in those big games before. This year, they have that outlook and we expect leadership roles out of those guys.”

The engine of the team begins in the center of the field, where second-team all-region junior captain Jordan Logan (Oxford, Pa./Oxford Area) returns. Logan, a 6-0 midfielder that has a touch for the goal and has a knack for winning balls out of the air, tied the school record with seven game-winning goals in 2015 while posting 13 goals and four assists.

On the wing, junior Abdullahi Abdi (Seattle, Wash./James Garfield) returns after also earning second-team all-region honors, as the 5-5 speedster with great touch and vision posted 11 goals and a MAC Commonwealth-leading 10 assists. Abdi finished the season third in the league in points per game and he has led the team in scoring in each of his first two years with the team.

On the other wing, junior Mateo Velasquez (Scotrun, Pa./Pocono Mountain East) moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore while posting seven assists, the fourth most in the MAC Commonwealth. An honorable mention all-conference selection in 2015, Velasquez will continue to split time with senior Jason Coles (Logan Township, N.J./Kingsway Regional), who has posted four goals and four assists in his career. Sophomore Eli Kouemi (Montgomery Village, Md./Watkins Mill) also gave the team a goal and four assists as a rookie and will provide another option.

Juniors Kyle Stettenbauer (Columbia, Pa./Hempfield) and Keenthy Yeboah (Silver Spring, Md./Montgomery Blair) will continue to split time in the other center midfield position. Stettenbauer, who moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, scored three goals during the season and Yeboah added five goals while coming off the bench for most of the season. Senior Mike Amaya (Stockton, N.J./Hunterdon Central Regional) will also see time in the central midfield, as the hard-working midfielder has appeared in 43 career games and scored two goals.

In the defensive midfield position, junior Danny Tierney (Elizabethtown, Pa./Elizabethtown Area) fought off injuries early in the season to become a key part of the transition game. He notched a goal and an assist during the campaign.

Junior Kyle Mizell (White Marsh, Md./Archbishop Curley) and freshmen William Jenkins(Fairfield, Pa./Pennsylvania Virtual Charter), Tanner Fonjweng (Bear, Del./Glasgow) andGeorge Charalabidis (Sewell, N.J./Washington Township) will lead a group of newcomers that will fight for time, along with Colin Moore (Afton, Va./Western Ablemarle), Tobias Brindicci (Mar del Plata, Argentina/Instituto Peralta Ramos) and Lance Klingler(Bloomsburg, Pa./Bloomsburg Area).

With all four starters and six significant contributors back from a defense that allowed a school-record 0.57 goals against in 2015, the Warriors will once again rely on a defensive front that aggressively contributed 10 goals and six assists while also preventing all but seven teams from taking 10 shots in a game.

The heart of the defense lies with the center backs, where junior All-American Kyle Thomas (Bel Air, Md./C. Milton Wright) and sophomore Sainclair Tueno (Silver Spring, Md./Montgomery Blair) will patrol.

Thomas, a team captain, gives the team a 6-5 frame and game-changing intelligence in the backfield. Seemingly always in the right place, Thomas can stop attacks on a dime and win just about every ball out of the air, while also providing offense in set pieces, as he posted two goals and five assists in 2015.

“Kyle is fantastic, from on the field to the classroom and around campus,” Gibboney said. “He is everything you want in a leader and a captain. Like last year, he is someone we will all look to. He is going to be more vocal this year, which will be important.”

Tueno, a Second Team All-MAC Commonwealth selection and the MAC Commonwealth Tournament MVP, provides an aggressive, super-athletic option in the other center back position, as the 6-1, 185-pounder loves to push forward. He scored game-winning goals in both conference tournament games in 2015 and finished the year with five scores and an assist.

Seniors Dom Haynes (Pocono Summit, Pa./Pocono Mountain East) and Alfonce Mutuku(Beltsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) have settled into outside defender roles after starting their careers in other slots. Haynes, a converted midfielder, has started 58 games in his career and provided four goals and four assists. Mutuku, meanwhile, started his career as a forward, scoring seven goals as a freshman. As a junior, he stepped into his new role and he became indispensable in the new role, averaging nearly 70 minutes a game.

“Sainclair, when we finished last year, was playing as well as anyone on our team,” Gibboney said. “Not just defensively, he was also providing a lot of support offensively, going forward at times. Dom and Alfonce, being seniors now, are three-year starters. They know their roles, their expectations. They know exactly how we do things on the field.”

Sophomores Jake Webb (Fairless Hills, Pa./Conwell-Egan Catholic) and Sean McLaughlin (Egg Harbor Township, N.J./Egg Harbor Township) give the team two more players with significant experience, as the outside defenders each played in at least 18 games. McLaughlin also added two goals.

Adding to the depth are senior Stallon Ndawula (Rockville, Md./Montgomery Blair), sophomore Nathaniel Wilston (Mansfield, Pa./Mansfield) and sophomore Myles Horst(Loxahatchee, Fla./Seminole Ridge), as all three have on-field experience with the Warriors.

Freshmen Nick Thornton (Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny), Ameer Payton (Eastampton, N.J./Rancocas Valley Regional), Vito Montgomery (Newark, Del./St. Georges Tech) andZach Raut (Baltimore, Md./Sparrows Point), also give the team’s defense some fresh faces and both will have an opportunity to make immediate impacts.

After tying the school record with 16 wins, senior Josh Gildea (Center Valley, Pa./Southern Lehigh) gives the Warriors a solid skill set in net. However, with three other keepers on the roster, Gildea will be pushed to keep his starting job.

“Josh has improved in a lot of areas from last year,” Gibboney said. “One of his biggest strengths is his knowledge of how we do things. He organizes the backline and gets them in the right spots, which ultimately makes things easier. Being a senior, he knows exactly what the expectations are.”

Gildea’s 0.64 goals-against average as a junior set a school record and he posted nine shutouts, good for third in program history.

Sophomore Chris Solecki (Mount Laurel, N.J./Lenape) also returns with experience in net, as the 5-10 keeper allowed no goals in 192 minutes of action, posting shutouts against Juniata and Mount Aloysius. Freshmen Will Brennan (Mansfield, Pa./Notre Dame (N.Y.)) and Ryan Litterer (Colonia, N.J./Colonia) also join the team and will compete for time in net.

“The goalkeeper competition during preseason has been great so far,” Gibboney said. “Chris Solecki came along throughout last spring. We brought in two freshmen that have really pushed hard. We expect these guys to continue to improve and be able to compete against some of these top teams we have on the schedule.”

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