SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Over the last decade Santa Clara University men's soccer coach Mitch Murray has established an incredible winning tradition that places the Broncos in a position of national prominence. The Broncos advanced to the NCAA Tournament for five straight years, beginning in 1995, and won four West Coast Conference titles during that same time span. Even more impressive is the fact that the Broncos advanced to the national semifinals in 1991, 1998 and 1999, and were participants in the national championship game in both '91 and `99.
Heading into last season Murray knew that it would be a year of unknowns after losing nine players, seven of which were starters, to graduation from a team that battled for the national title. Despite a 10-7 year, and missing the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1994, Murray was proud of the progress and development of his squad. Combine that progress and development with a talented crop of young players, and Santa Clara seems poised once again to return to the NCAA Tournament and contend for a trip to the College Cup.
The 2001 team is Murray's first in the new decade and will be vastly different from the team that entered the 2000 season. The Broncos return eight starters from a year ago and 16 letter winners, including three all-conference selections and WCC Defender of the Year Jeff Stewart. Seniors Anthony Chimienti and Rusty Johnson, both second team All-WCC performers, join Stewart in providing the Broncos with senior leadership.
Stewart returns for his fourth and final year at Santa Clara having yet to miss a single game in his collegiate career. Last season Stewart helped guide the Broncos defense to an impressive 0.89 goals-against average. During his career he has directed the defense to an unbelievably low 0.76 GAA. He has earned the reputation as one of the top defenders in the nation and has been selected by collegesoccernews.com and collegesoccer.com as a preseason All-America.
"Jeff's skill is only amplified by his incredible passion for winning," said Murray. "I expect Jeff to have another solid season for us and possibly put himself in a position to be drafted and continue his soccer playing days beyond Santa Clara."
Stewart will direct the defense in front of netminder Rusty Johnson who also returns for the final year of his career. Johnson led the Broncos to the NCAA title game in 1999 by posting 10.5 shutouts and a low 0.73 GAA. He had another good season last year, posting 10 shutouts to go along with a 0.89 GAA. During his three years at Santa Clara Johnson has steadily moved up the Broncos' record books for career shutouts and goals-against average. A good deal of Santa Clara's success will rest in Johnson's capable hands.
Pushing Johnson in goal will be Kevin Mehrens who is coming off an injury plagued year in which he was limited to action in just one contest. Mehrens is in his fourth year at Santa Clara and is poised to make an impact if provided an opportunity.
"Kevin came in a couple of years ago and looked very ready to become the starting keeper," said Murray. "He has played well for us when we have asked him to, but unfortunately he has suffered through some injuries over the past couple of years that has really limited his time."
Whether it is Mehrens or Johnson in goal, the Santa Clara defense will undoubtedly be in good hands. Stewart, Johnson and Mehrens will head up the traditionally strong and experienced defense that will be complimented by fellow seniors Keith Burden, Justin Canel, Tony Cota, and Burke Ewers.
Canel and Ewers both return after missing most of last year due to injuries, while Burden and Cota bring their zealous style of play back for their senior season.
Joining a phenomenal class of seniors are juniors Stephen Biondolillo, Scott McLain, and Jamil Walker.
Biondolillo and McLain return for their third year adding experience and maturity to a defense that is already loaded in that area. Walker returns for his second year at Santa Clara after transferring from the Air Force Academy. Walker is a proven offensive threats and a dangerous goal scorer, finishing second on the team last season in points (11), goals (4), assists (3), and shots (31).
Kellen Gilmore shores up the list of returning defenders. Gilmore will follow a successful freshman campaign that was capped off by scoring the game-winning goal in last year's 1-0 victory over LMU in last year's season finale.
Murray is excited about his returning players on defense, but with that excitement comes high expectations, especially for the second year players. "Last year's freshman class needs to step it up," said Murray. "It is crucial that they enter the year fit and in shape to keep Santa Clara at the standards we have built over the last decade."
Although the defense at Santa Clara has been the cornerstone around which the program has been built, offense may very well be the biggest key to success in 2001.
"We have probably been known for our defense over the years, but I think we have had some good attacking teams during my time here," said Murray. "We want to be as versatile as possible. We want to score goals as well as defend, that is why we train to attack."
The always dangerous and talented Chimienti returns for his fourth and final year at Santa Clara, providing leadership and experience up front. Philip Johnson, and Matt Upton also return to give depth and versatility to the offensive attack, while Rahim Walker will compete for a spot after redshirting last season.
Chimienti led the team in scoring for the second consecutive year in 2000. The San Jose, Calif. native registered 16 points for the Broncos in 2000, coming on six goals and four assists. Chimienti finished eighth in the WCC in points per game, averaging 0.94 points per contest. During his sophomore year Chimienti led Santa Clara with 23 points. For his career Chimienti currently ranks ninth all-time in Santa Clara history with his 19 goals.
"Anthony is an exceptionally fast athlete who is a quick and dangerous goal scorer," said Murray. "He is especially dangerous around the net, and is a great finisher and ball-handler. Anthony has been one of our primary offensive threats over the past three years and will be looked to again fill that same role."
Upton returns after a successful inaugural season for the Broncos in which he played all 17 matches, starting the last 10 matches of the year and 12 overall. Upton fired seven shots on the season, scoring his lone goal in the Broncos' 5-0 victory over Cal in September.
"Matt was a freshman that saw considerable time for us last year," said Murray. "I expect him to fight for the starting position he earned at the end of last season."
Philip Johnson looks to contribute with his quickness and passing. Johnson led the team with the fastest 40-yard dash time during the first week of practice, registering a time of 4.5 seconds. Redshirt freshman Rahim Walker, younger brother of Jamil, looks to have an impact on the 2001 team, applying lessons learned from last season.
In addition to the solid core of returners throughout the field, Santa Clara boasts of one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. The quality of this class rests on five incoming freshmen, all of whom look to make immediate and long-term impacts for Mitch Murray.
Heading the class of recruits are U-18 National Team players, Ryan Cochrane and Steve Cronin. Cochrane and Cronin played on the U-18 National Team in 2000, competing against national, international and MLS teams. Cochrane was the only player on the U-18 squad to start all 19 matches in 2000, while Cronin registered an impressive 0.70 GAA during his 17 appearances. The two helped the U-18 team to a 2-1 win over Norway, as well as a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer.
Both Cochrane and Cronin were recipients of All-America honors from Parade Magazine, with Cronin being selected as Parade's National Player of the Year, and Cochrane being named its Defender of the Year. Cochrane also received Gatorade Player of the Year honors for his home state of Oregon, while Cronin earned Sports Illustrated Magazine's Old Spice Athlete of the Month honors for October 2000.
Joining Cochrane and Cronin are incoming freshmen Jason Pan, Eric Irvine, and Devin Skrade. Pan and Skrade both join the Broncos' program from Milwaukee, Wisc. Last year Pan earned All-Midwest Region honors from the NSCAA in addition to all-state, all-conference, and all-area honors in Milwaukee during his senior season at Wauwatosa East High School. Skrade was a three-time all-conference performer and an all-state selection during his senior season at Pius XI High School. Pan and Skrade teamed together for three state championships while members of their Milwaukee Kickers club team.
Irvine comes to the Santa Clara campus from La Caï¿½ada High School in Irvine, Calif. Led the La Caï¿½ada team to a 22-1 mark and a CIF semifinal appearance during his senior campaign. Earned first-team all-CIF honors last year while accumulating a staggering 26 goals and 14 assists. Irvine's team put together an incredible scoring difference last year, as La Caï¿½ada scored 99 goals while limiting its opponents to 11 goals in 23 games.
Combining the overall talents of the returning letterwinners and the talented recruiting class lies with not only Murray, but with his knowledgeable assistants like Cameron Rast. Rast was elevated to the position Associate Head Coach in July 2001. Rast has contributed greatly to the incredible amount of success that the Santa Clara men's soccer team has achieved throughout the years, putting his unique stamp on the Santa Clara program. He is involved in every aspect of the Bronco program, including recruiting and scheduling.
"Cameron is much more than an assistant coach, he is a co-coach," said Murray. "I am excited to see Cameron recognized and rewarded for his hard work and his talent. For a relatively young coach he has the experience and maturity from his experiences here and with the National Teams he has worked with."
Alongside Rast is arguably the best goalkeeper coach in the nation and now a full-time member of the Santa Clara coaching staff in Eric Yamamoto. Yamamoto is entering his 11th year as an assistant for the Santa Clara soccer program after a stellar playing career from 1986-89. In addition to his role as goalkeepers coach for both the men's and women's programs at Santa Clara, Yamamoto also is a member of the U.S. National Team coaching staff working with many of the nation's top goalkeepers. His most recent work was with the U.S. Women's National Team, and with many U.S. National Youth teams on both the boys and girls side.
"Eric is truly an expert in the art of goalkeeping," said Murray. "He is in definitely in demand on both the collegiate and National Team levels, and will add tremendous value to this program."
Both Rast and Yamamoto were members of the 1989 team that went 20-0-3 and claimed stake to Santa Clara's first men's soccer National Championship.
Just how well the 2001 team will do depends on the play of the experienced returners as well as the development of the talented recruiting class. Combine that talented experience with young legs and potential, and Santa Clara appears to have the right formula for staking a claim among the national elite for a second consecutive decade under Mitch Murray and his staff.