Aug. 22, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - Coming into the 2006 season, Broncos head coach Cameron Rast has a strong nucleus of returning players, a good group of underclassmen ready to make the leap to the next level and another top recruiting class to bolster the team. With all of those pieces, the stage is set for another strong season on the Mission Campus.
SCU opens the season on the road on Friday, Aug. 25 against the Stanford Cardinal at 7:00 p.m. PT, before hosting California on Sunday, August 27 at 7:00 p.m. PT at Buck Shaw Stadium. For tickets, call 408-554-4660 or click here.
The Broncos lost seven seniors and first-team All-American Mehdi Ballouchy, who turned pro after his junior year, from last year's squad that qualified for the program's 16th NCAA Tournament and finished second in the West Coast Conference. Ballouchy was drafted second overall in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. With those players last season, SCU put together a very good season, finishing the year 13-6-3 and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The team knocked off Ohio State in the first round 1-0 before falling to California on penalty kicks 5-4 after a 0-0 tie in regulation and overtime.
Despite the loss of those standout players, Rast can count on 13 returning letterwinners from 2005 to lead the team, including All-WCC performers, Peter Lowry and Keith DeVey, along with senior captain Eric Ustruck, who missed part of last season due to injury.
"Peter, Keith and Eric are going to provide us with great leadership both on the field and off the field," said Rast. "All three are very experienced and have played in a number of big games for us. We are going to look to them to help this young team find an identity early on and get off to a good start."
"Our goal every year is to win the NCAA Championship and that is no different this year. The team has put in a lot of work in the off-season to prepare for 2006, so I am optimistic about our chances and I am looking forward to seeing this group start playing together."
Heading into his fifth season as head coach after eight seasons as an assistant, Rast has already compiled a 54-22-8 record and has never had a team finish lower than third in the West Coast Conference. The Broncos have qualified for the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years, reaching the NCAA College Cup in 2003 with Rast at the helm. Assisting Rast in 2006 will be long-time assistant coach Eric Yamamoto, who is in his 16th season as a coach at Santa Clara, after a standout career for the Broncos. Rusty Johnson, who serves as the goalkeeper coach, returns for his fourth season to round out the full-time staff. Tim Martin, a former professional player with the San Jose Clash (Major League Soccer), will also lend a hand as an assistant.
Tending the Nets
Following the graduation of Kevin Sweeney, who performed superbly in 2005, goalkeeping is the Broncos biggest question mark heading into 2006. Last season Christopher Moreo started the year, before Sweeney took over midseason and finished the year with a 0.65 goals against average and nine shutouts, including back-to-back shutouts in the NCAA Tournament. He also amassed a shutout streak of 479:30, the third-longest streak in school history, en route to earning All-WCC honorable mention honors. The former Bellarmine Prep standout accomplished all this despite not playing his first game for Santa Clara until last season.
With Moreo and Sweeney gone, Joseph Buttitta and Ari Zlotoff are available to man the nets for the Broncos. Buttitta is entering his sophomore season after not appearing in any games as a redshirt freshman in 2005. He had an excellent career at Bellarmine Prep prior to coming to the Mission Campus, helping the Bells to an undefeated season in his junior year and recording 14 consecutive shutouts as a junior. Bellarmine won the CCS Championship his junior season.
"We really need Joe to settle in right away for us," said Rast. "Ideally, he will step right in and make some good saves early in the season and get his confidence going, so that he can be consistent throughout the year."
Zlotoff is coming off a redshirt season after a career at Santa Monica High School where he earned first-team All-Ocean honors as a senior. His team went a combined 42-6 during his final two years of high school. Freshman Adam Carosso will provide additional depth at the position.
Despite the loss of so many letterwinners, the Broncos defense should be as strong as ever in 2006. After registering 12 shutouts in 2005 (good for second all-time), SCU will look to again shut down their opponents in 2006. The backline will boast experience and versatility as a number of the defenders have proven to be good options up front and in the midfield. A group of four juniors, Brian Curry, Matt Hatzke, Matt Marquess and Jamil Roberts will be expected to provide leadership at the back. Last season, the four combined to appear in 79 games, with Hatzke and Marquess playing in all 22 contests. Roberts missed part of last year with an injury, but expect him to come back strong in 2006 after a good finish to the 2005 season. Marquess became a mainstay in the back after starting the year as a reserve.
Sophomore Jide Ogunbiyi, who started his freshman season in defense before moving to forward, could also bolster the defense. Ogunbiyi was an All-WCC honorable mention in 2005 and was named to the WCC All-Freshmen team after scoring three goals and playing in all 22 games. Anton Hooker and Aaron Clubb provide the team with other options in back after appearing in 13 games combined in 2005.
Pulling the Strings
In 2005, the unquestioned leader in the midfield was Mehdi Ballouchy, who led the Broncos attack with his skillful play on the way to All-American honors. While Ballouchy has moved on, Rast still finds his midfield stocked with a number of talented performers who will look to build upon their past success. Headlining the midfield will be All-WCC second team performer Peter Lowry and senior captain Eric Ustruck, who is healthy again after missing part of last year.
"I think that Peter is going to really emerge as one of the top players not only in the conference but in the country this year," said Rast. "He has had two great years for us and I am looking for more great things out of him in 2006."
"Eric, along with Keith DeVey, is one of our last ties to the NCAA College Cup team of 2003, so his experience will be invaluable. He also brings tremendous quality on the field, so I believe that he will finish his college career very strong."
Lowry will once again fill the role of defensive midfielder, winning balls and setting the tempo for the Broncos. However, opposing defenses have to watch out for his offense as he demonstrated by scoring the winning goal against Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament last year. After starting 19 games as a sophomore, Ustruck again excelled in the Broncos midfield in 2005 despite missing six games to injury. He scored two goals and provided his usual solid play in the middle of the field.
Also providing depth will be incoming freshmen Amaechi Igwe, Jeff Cosgriff and Stephen McCarthy. Igwe spent the summer performing for the U.S. Under-20 national team and could be ready to start this fall with a strong preseason.
After leading the team in goals each of the past two seasons, senior Keith DeVey is looking to finish out his career with another stellar season. DeVey burst out of the gate in 2005 with five goals in the first five games of the season, including late game-winners against UCLA and Cal-State Fullerton to open the season. He also scored a late goal to send the game against Stanford to overtime before the Broncos prevailed 2-1. After his quick start, DeVey moved into a midfield position to provide cover due to a number of injuries. After playing well in midfield, the Kula, Hawaii resident sustained an injury that forced him to miss three out of the last four games of the season.
"We are going to need Keith and his fellow strikers to get in sync right out of the chute," said Rast. "We have a lot of possibilities up top, so we will have to find the right combination and have them start putting some balls in the back of the net."
Possible strike partners for DeVey include Ogunbiyi, sophomore transfer Brian Martin (Furman), Aaron Clubb (one goal in 2005) or possibly one of the incoming freshmen. After starting the year on the backline for Rast, Ogunbiyi had a number of solid performances as an attacker in his freshman season in 2005. He netted three goals, including an overtime game-winner against Stanford.
Martin had an excellent freshman campaign for Furman in 2005, scoring eight goals and dishing out four assists to lead the Paladins in scoring. With a year of college experience under his belt, Martin, who played with Jamil Roberts in the 2005 Milk Cup for the Under-18 national team, appears ready to step in alongside DeVey and make an immediate impact. He was named to the second-team All-Southern Conference for his outstanding play in 2005.
Igwe could also found himself up top in a 4-3-3 formation to provide the Broncos with one of the top forward lines in the West Coast Conference.
Another stellar freshmen class looks ready to make an immediate impact on the Mission Campus in 2006. The newcomers, led by Igwe and forward Stephen McCarthy, should provide depth in all areas of the field, as Rast has brought in two forwards, a defender and three players that can play a number of positions.
"Our freshmen have a ton of potential and I expect them to make good contributions right away," said Rast. "Some of them could find themselves starting if they have a strong preseason."
Along with Igwe and McCarthy, the class also boasts midfielder/forward Ryan Brown (Montclair, NJ), midfielder/forward Jeff Cosgriff (San Bruno), forward Sean Danzeiser (Albuquerque, NM) and forward Kellen Wantulok (Boise, Idaho), who is recovering from an injury suffered last spring.
Once again, Rast has put together one of the nation's toughest schedules, as the Broncos face 2005 NCAA Tournament teams UCLA, California, Cal State Northridge and San Francisco, along with traditional NCAA power Saint Louis University. SCU also takes on its Bay Area rivals, Stanford and San Jose State, while having to battle through the West Coast Conference's double round robin format.
"We have a very difficult non-conference schedule and I am happy about that," said Rast. "Those early games will prepare us very well for our conference schedule and if we are successful early, we will be in great position early to grab an NCAA Tournament berth. However, we know that playing teams like UCLA, Stanford, Cal and Cal State Northridge will present a great challenge for us. We are all excited about that challenge."
The season gets off to an explosive start, as SCU travels to The Farm for a game against their local rival, the Stanford Cardinal, on Friday, August 25, before returning to Santa Clara to open the home slate against the California Golden Bears on Sunday, August 27.
After a Labor Day weekend at the UC-Irvine College Classic with matches against Northwestern and Niagara, the Broncos renew acquaintances with the Billikens of Saint Louis University on Friday, September 8 as part of the Santa Clara adidas Classic. The two NCAA powers have met only three times in their history, the last time coming in 1982, a 3-0 win for the Broncos.
SCU will get no break once conference play begins as every WCC game will again be a stern test. As many as five schools have a legitimate shot at capturing the 2006 conference crown.
"It should be another great year in the WCC," said Rast. "Hopefully we will peaking in the conference season and near the end of the year, so we can compete for conference and national championships."
Overall, 2006 figures to be another memorable year for the Broncos, as they look to qualify for their 17th NCAA Touranment and make their sixth College Cup appearance.