Aug. 31, 2005
BALTIMORE, MD - The Blue Jays return seven starters and enter the season ranked first in the Centennial Conference and 11th in the nation, which is exactly where they left off last November. But the 2005 season, and whether Johns Hopkins can clinch a consecutive Centennial Conference title for the first time in history, will be decided more by what is new than by what remains the same from last year.
The major changes to the team include a new goalkeeper who will replace All-America Gary Kane, Jr., eight rookies, and a renovated playing surface at the Blue Jays' Homewood Field.
Last year's team was defined by defense and, more specifically, Kane, Jr., who boasted a 0.25 goals against average throughout all 20 games. The Blue Jays have two junior goalkeepers, Dan Coble and Ryan Bradley, who will compete for the starting position.
Fortunately, the 2004 defense that allowed just six goals all season relied on much more than just its keeper. Jeff Grosser returns for his senior year after earning first-team all-conference and all-region honors last season. However, the Blue Jays must fill the void left by the graduation of Chris Brown, another all-conference and all-region back. Smith intends to move several returnees as well as newcomers to defensive positions at the start of the season. With a new Sportexe Momentum 151 playing surface at Homewood Field, Smith is waiting to see how the returnees will adjust, and he will base many starting decisions on such adjustments.
One of the biggest strengths of this year's team is its experience, with eight seniors and seven juniors leading the 2005 campaign. Two-time captain Traver Davis started all 20 games last year, as did leading scorer Steve Read, who tallied eight goals and two assists and earned first-team all-conference honors.
Two players expected to shine this year are senior Manbaj Gill and junior Ben McAbee. Gill transferred to Hopkins in 2003 and immediately earned a starting role in the midfield. Last year, he was the team's second-highest scorer with three goals, five assists, one game-winner, and the tying goal in the 88th minute against Elizabethtown in the NCAA Second Round. Gill earned 2004 first-team all-conference and all-region honors and was named second-team All-America. McAbee, who scored four goals and four assists as a freshman midfielder, returns to the lineup after missing all of last season with an injury.
In total, the Blue Jays return eight players who started at least half of the games last year. Junior Blaine Phillips returns on defense after starting 12 of 16 games in 2004. Junior Joe Pinero played all 20 games, started 10, and finished fourth in scoring with four goals and two assists. Senior Adam Simon started 11 games and tallied two goals and two assists despite missing six games with an injury. Seniors Aaron Blynn, Jeremy Jacobson, and Edmond Wybaillie were also consistent starters in 2004 who are expected to contribute even more this year. Blynn started seven of the 16 games he played, and will be relied on defensively to replace Brown. Jacobson started 15 of the 16 games he played, recorded one goal and one assist, and was named to two all-tournament teams in September.
Junior Trip Neil and sophomores Brendan Kittredge and Nate Ford also return to add depth to the squad, but junior Moath Hamzeh, who started 11 games last year, will sit this season out after injuring his knee in the offseason.
This year's class of newcomers is one of the largest and most talented in the program's history. According to Smith, several freshman can step right into the starting lineup. Connecticut native Matthew Carlson and New Jersey standout Ethan Mulligan highlight the group of 14 rookies.
Carlson played at Loomis Chaffee prep school, where his team won the Founders League and WNEPSSA championships and was the NEPSSA runner up. A midfielder, Carlson earned all-star honors by both the WNEPSSA and NEPSSA. Mulligan was a second-team all-state player for Kearny High School, where he helped the team win two state championships. The defender was also selected for the Y-League ODP national pool. Nicolas Gauna was an all-state and all-midwest midfielder for Evanston High School in Illinois, and coming to Johns Hopkins from across the country is Malcom Stewart, the team MVP and an all-league selection from California's Montgomery High School.
The Blue Jays open their season by hosting the annual Dr. Al Tucci Kickoff Classic at Homewood Field. On September 3, Johns Hopkins will face the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which received votes in the national preseason poll after finishing 19-3 last year. The next day, the Blue Jays meet Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the final game of the tournament. Claremont returns seven starters from its 2004 team that finished 14-4-1.
Hopkins will also play local opponent Saint Mary's College and will travel to Maryville, Tennessee, for a two-day tournament before starting Centennial Conference play against Muhlenberg on September 17. The Mules were picked second in the preseason conference poll and should be one of Hopkins' toughest Centennial opponents this season. In last year's conference tournament semifinals, the two teams battled to a scoreless tie before Hopkins advanced on penalty kicks.
After Muhlenberg, the Blue Jays host their in-state rival McDaniel, which finished second in the conference with a 1-0 loss to Hopkins in the title game last year. In between their next few conference games, the Blue Jays will play some tough non-conference competition, including Drew on September 24, Montclair State on October 5, and Arcadia on October 12. Drew and Montclair State are consistenly among the top regional teams, while Arcadia finished 16-3-4 last year and is ranked 17th in the preseason national poll.
The non-conference competition should prepare the Blue Jays for the Centennial tournament, where their goal is to be seeded first with a second straight undefeated conference record.
After Hopkins' preseason workouts, Smith has no doubt his team has the potential to do what no other Blue Jay men's soccer team has done - win back-to-back Centennial Conference titles - and advance deep into the NCAA tournament.