Men's Soccer Looks to Maintain the Standard of Excellence
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After making a run to the NCAA College Cup last season, the 2004 Santa Clara men's soccer team is looking to maintain its standard of excellence in the upcoming season. The Broncos annually maintain one of the strongest programs in the country, advancing to the postseason 11 times in the past 15 years. Last season's appearance in the national semifinal marked the fifth time in school history SCU had advanced to that point in the tournament. Third year head coach Cameron Rast will lead a team that went undefeated at home a year ago and posted a 16-4-4 record. With 14 returning letterwinners from and a talented group of newcomers, Santa Clara will team on the field capable of winning a national championship in 2004.
"Coming off a College Cup appearance leaves this year's team with high expectations," said Rast. "What will be important is how well we are playing at the end of the season, versus the beginning. With the loss of six starters we will have to fill some positions to find success. Fortunately, with the core of returning players and the talented group coming in, we should be ready to make a run at another College Cup."
Both the end and the beginning of the 2003 season saw the Broncos playing the best soccer of their campaign. With three tournaments to start off the year, Santa Clara went 6-0-2, highlighted by a 3-1 victory over SMU in the Loyola Marymount Tournament on September 7. After suffering two losses in late September and a tie with Stanford, the Broncos went on to win six straight games from October 5 to November 8 and finish the regular season with a 13-3-3 mark.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Broncos faced a re-match with SMU. After 120 minutes of action, the teams were tied at 1-1. Santa Clara would come out victorious, defeating the Mustangs on penalty kicks, 5-1. The Broncos would avenge an earlier loss in the second round as they beat Loyola Marymount 1-0 in overtime in Los Angeles. Buck Shaw Stadium would play host to the next two rounds of the postseason as SCU defeated Coastal Carolina and Michigan to advance to the College Cup. In Columbus, Ohio, the Broncos would take on Indiana in the national semifinal. SCU took the Hoosiers to a second overtime, but Indiana would prevail en route to the National Championship.
With a solid group of returnees and a large crop of fresh faces, the 2004 Santa Clara men's soccer team will embark on the season as the preseason favorite to reclaim the West Coast Conference title. The Broncos are poised not only to repeat as conference champions, but also advance deep into the postseason for the second straight year.
One of four seniors on the squad, Kent Harkness will spearhead the Bronco goalkeepers in 2004. After transferring from Rhode Island before his sophomore season, Harkness has appeared in 17 matches in his two years with the program. A year ago, the Spring, Texas native started four of the Broncos five postseason matches, including a shutout of Loyola Marymount on its home field in the second round. One of the most experienced players for SCU, he will be looked on to guide a youthful core of keepers.
Matt Biggam and Ryan Wood will also bring a year of experience in the Bronco program. Biggam, who transferred from Cabrillo College a year ago, saw limited time in 2003. A talented player, he will be in the mix for playing time. After redshirting in 2003, Wood comes into the season with a new presence in the net. A gifted decision-maker, Wood's added strength and his 6-foot-4-inch frame will make him an intimidating figure in goal.
A pair of freshman will provide depth in the Broncos goalkeeper core. San Jose native Joseph Buttita could factor into the starting goalkeeper mix. A Bellarmine Prep graduate, Buttita led the Bels to an undefeated season in 2002. Christopher Moreo comes to Santa Clara from Las Vegas and will also be in competition for time in goal.
The Broncos will return four members of a defense that allowed only 18 goals in 24 matches last season. Despite the loss of All-American and San Jose Earthquake first round draft pick Ryan Cochrane, the Bronco defense will once again the cornerstone of the team in 2004.
Senior Jason Pan will return to the back line after starting every game in 2003. A walk-on in his freshman year, Pan embodies the spirit of the Bronco program. He is a consistent player who can be counted on in critical situations. One of four returning players with four goals last year, Pan scored the game-winner against Portland in double overtime to earn him WCC Player of Week honors.
Ryan Purtell will also return to the SCU defense after excelling in the postseason last year. One of the toughest Santa Clara defenders, Purtell's strength and expertise in the air makes him a dominant force in the back.
Another of the four Bronco seniors, Zach Knight brings three years of experience into the 2004 season. With over 30 career appearances, Knight is one of the senior members of the defense. A versatile player, Rast may use Knight in a front line role.
Eric Irvine also brings versatility to the back line. His strengths lie in his speed and play in the air, especially in the attack. Irvine can also find the back of the net, scoring three goals last season. Two of his scores came against Cal State Monterey Bay helping him earn a spot on the College Soccer News Team of the Week.
A wealth of newcomers will provide support to the returnees as freshman Jamil Roberts and transfer Jonathan Barbarin highlight the group. After playing with the U18 US National team, the athletic Roberts will be looked upon to bring international experience to Santa Clara. Barbarin, who comes to Santa Clara from American University, will also be in competition for a starting role as his experience will be a great help to the defense.
In the midfield, the Broncos return two starters from last season and welcome two newcomers who will play a large role in the success of the team.
A Freshman All-American in 2002, Medhi Ballouchy (MED-eee Bub-LOU-chee) will take the field for the first time as a Bronco this fall after transferring from Creighton last year. Rast and his staff are excited about the addition of this Morocco native to the program.
"Medhi has the potential to be among the most talented midfielders we have ever had at Santa Clara," said Rast. "He will bring a style to our attack few other teams can match. He should be considered for some of the player of the year awards by the season's end."
Jason Cunliffe will return to the midfield for the Broncos after appearing in 21 matches a year ago. The junior from Guam is a crafty left-footed player who brings a creative mind to the Bronco attack.
Sophomore Erik Ustruck returns to the team after scoring four goals and earning All-WCC Second Team honors last year. Ustruck played with the U20 US National Team in Haiti during the summer. The coaching staff will look to Erik to continue to be a large contributor and build upon his success from 2003.
A veteran to the Bronco program, Alex Tablin-Wolf will be in the mix for playing time in the midfield. A settling force for the squad, Tablin-Wolf is a skilled player with good feet. His newly added strength should only improve his steady play.
Incoming freshman Peter Lowry will also make an immediate impact in the center. An attacking midfielder, Lowry has a great sense of the tactical aspects of the game. The MVP of the McDonald's All-America game and a veteran of the US National team program, Lowry's strongest asset is his ability to create goals in possession.
A wealth of newcomers will provide much needed depth in the midfield. Freshmen Chris Clark, Matthew Hatzke and Hector Guzman will all factor into the battle for playing time. Clark brings a strong presence to the center with his 6-foot-3-inch frame. Hatzke, who graduated from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, will be expected to make a strong contribution with his well-styled game. Costa Rica native Hector Guzman adds more international experience to the team after playing in the youth development programs of Saprissa FC, one of Central America's strongest clubs.
The forward position contains the most experience for the Broncos, as Santa Clara returns their two top scorers from last season along with a group of seasoned veterans and a talented freshman in Stryker Matthews. This core of quick-footed attackers provides SCU with several options for keeping opposing defenses off-balance.
An All-WCC First Team selection in 2003 and one of the 2004 captains, senior Will Weatherly captures the essence of the Bronco program. A former walk-on, Weatherly led the team in scoring a year ago with seven goals and a total of 17 points. One of the key components to the offense, the Washington native not only was named to the All-College Cup Team, but also earned CoSIDA District VIII All-Academic honors. His experience and talent makes him one of Santa Clara's biggest threats in 2004.
Equally as skilled, Kelechi Igwe will return to the front line with 40 games under his belt in only two seasons. After posting 16 points and six goals last season, Igwe will be yet another challenge to opposing teams. Igwe spent the off-season training in Bolivia. His experience abroad and dominating strength bring another dimension to the forward position.
Jeff Scott and Keith DeVey are both experienced in the Bronco system and will bring their own style to the attack. Described as one of the most athletic players on the squad, Scott will factor into the forward rotation. His left-footed attack will be counted on this season. DeVey will be looked on to make a major impact. He is a creative thinker who has a knack for finding the goal.
Devin Skrade and Ryan Wolfe are also knowledgeable forwards who have a year in the system under their belts. Skrade, who redshirted a year ago due to injury, has a direct attack and ability to run past defenders. Wolfe is an athletic, wing player whose tireless competitive drive will lead him to the back of the net consistently.
Stryker Matthews comes to Santa Clara from San Juan Capistrano with a strong club background from the Mission Viejo Pateadores program. His name says it all as his directness to the goal and pace makes him a threat to score at all times.
The biggest change in the Santa Clara schedule this season comes in the West Coast Conference slate. New to the league this year, the double round robin format will pit conference foes against each other twice during the season.
"In one sense, the format rewards the conference for the success and strength we have earned in recent years against other conferences," said Rast. "On the other hand, it gives our teams less opportunities to play other opponents to establish that strength. In the end, I hope it will improve the chances for a greater number of teams from the WCC to earn bids to the NCAA Tournament."
Due to the shortened non-conference season, the Broncos will only travel out of the state once before conference play begins. The George Mason/Comfort Inn Classic in Fairfax, Va. will allow the Broncos to diversify its schedule by facing-off against teams from the East Coast.
"Both George Mason and Loyola will present different challenges for our young team," said Rast. "Any time you are on the road, it is a good test for the team. Being unfamiliar with the setting and the opponents will help in our team's development in a tournament setting."
Local rivalries will also be a large part of the non-conference schedule as matches against Pac-10 schools California and Stanford take place after SCU kicks off their season at the diadora/USF Classic over Labor Day weekend. The Broncos will face Massachusetts and UC Davis in the season opening tournament.
The highlight of the early schedule will be the annual Santa Clara/adidas classic, which marks the home opener. The rivalry series match with cross-town rival San Jose State will be the marquee match-up of the tournament as Davidson and San Francisco round out the field.