NORTON, MA- After falling short of an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2002 and not claiming both the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regular season and tournament titles for the initial time in four years, the 2009 Wheaton College men's soccer team's mission is very clear: return to the top of the league after taking sixth in 2008.
"We're hunting and are no longer the hunted," voiced 16th-year head coach Matt Cushing. "We're hungry and have a chip on our shoulders. We have a lot to prove and can't be looking past anybody. How can we? We have to be realistic. Results are results."
Reaching double-figure wins for the 17th straight fall, Wheaton posted a 10-5-4 record with a 1-3-2 conference mark while advancing to the NEWMAC Tournament semifinal round for the ninth consecutive season. In the conference's 11-year history, the Lyons have had resounding success, winning seven regular season and tournament championships.
Expecting Babson College, Clark University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to be the favorites this fall, Cushing intends to not allow his 30-member team to take anything for granted. "They have to realize with every step they take they're trying to win," said Cushing. "With every aspect, every drill, every day, every hour and every practice, we have to learn how to win. Last year we stepped on the field and expected things to happen. Now we have an expectation of what we need to do to be successful before we step on the field. That's the difference."
Preaching to his players to enjoy the journey and not get ahead of themselves, Cushing set up a competitive matrix last spring and charted each of his players with everything they did, which he's hoping assists with the winning process. The Lyons completed the spring against Division I College of the Holy Cross, a team against which Cushing states Wheaton was competitive.
One of the areas Cushing, third-year assistant coach Matt Ristuccia '05, second-year assistant Keith Boudreau and first-year coach and former three-time All-American James Greenslit '06 are excited about is leadership. Nine sophomores consumed the bulk of the starting load last season and, now with two years under their belts, the leadership has shifted. It's no longer a young squad, and Cushing alluded to the fact that whenever Wheaton has had a good team, there's been exceptional leadership.
That sound guidance begins with junior tri-captains Cole Davidson (Needham, MA/Salisbury School), David Ferriero (Medway, MA/Medway) and Yuri Moreira (Marlboro, MA/Northfield Mount Hermon School). A 15-game starter between the pipes last fall, Davidson went 8-3-4 with a 1.33 goals against average and three shutouts. Ferriero and Moreira were both all-conference players, and this year Cushing looks for Ferriero to anchor the defense from his center back position and Moreira to lead the attack. After beginning last season on offense, Ferriero moved to the backfield, where he helped Wheaton allow one goal or less 12 times. He also had four goals and five assists. Moreira paced the team with 12 tallies and four game-winners while tying for the squad lead with 26 points.
Offense is a focal point for Cushing and his staff, as Wheaton finished fourth in the league in scoring in 2008. Joining Moreira up front is junior Josh Solomon (Acton, MA/Acton-Boxboro Regional) and sophomore Conor Finn (Kennebunk, ME/Kennebunk). Solomon, who also garnered all-league honors, led the team with 10 assists while tying Moreira with 26 points. Finn, who played for Wheaton's men's lacrosse squad last spring, transferred from Division I soccer power University of Tulsa.
Competing for time at forward are seniors Tyler Ostholthoff (Hopkinton, NH/Hopkinton) and Adam Sussman (Swampscott, MA/Swampscott), junior Jake Wagner (Sudbury, MA/Lincoln-Sudbury Regional), sophomore Matt Solomon (Avon, CT/Avon Old Farms) and freshman Will Nesbitt (Holliston, MA/Holliston). Wagner, who was second on the team with seven assists in 19 games from a midfield spot in 2008, is transitioning into the role of forward, while Sussman returns after three goals and one winner last fall. Ostholthoff, who could see time in the midfield, saw action in 14 games.
Sophomore Chris Thomas (Cumberland, ME/Phillips Academy) is slated to run the show from the midfield, joining junior Kyle Sye (Acton, MA/Acton-Boxboro Regional) and sophomore Pablo Mena (San Salvador, El Salvador/American School of El Salvador). Thomas turned in seven starts during 18 appearances as a freshman, tallying six points, while Sye rounds out Wheaton's list of all-conference performers. Mena added four assists and 15 starts in 2008.
Highly-touted freshman Cecil Jeffrey (Framingham, MA/Rivers School) enters the fray as an immediate impact player in the midfield, while classmate Max Swanson (Lexington, MA/Lexington), who could see time as a forward, is also in the mix. Sophomore Nick Addeo (Sudbury, MA/Lincoln-Sudbury Regional) and freshmen Federico Kelly (Hingham, MA/Hingham) and Gabe Reich (Brookline, MA/Beaver Country Day School) will provide depth up the middle.
Defensively, sophomore Matt Flaherty (Westlake Village, CA/Worcester Academy) is vying for a starting center back position with great competition from junior Steven Zerbini (Wethersfield, CT/Wethersfield) and freshman Howard Manly (Ayer, MA/Lawrence Academy).
On the outside, junior David Winrow (South Weymouth, MA/Weymouth) and freshman David Turina (North Yarmouth, ME/Northfield Mount Hermon School) lead the pack, while senior Matt Snider (Topsham, ME/Mount Ararat) and sophomores Matt Darling (Charlton, MA/Saint John's) and Rory McGonigle (Los Angeles, CA/Loyola) are looking for time. Winrow has started the past 42 games, while McGonigle saw the field in 12 contests as a freshman.
Backing up Davidson in net are juniors Chris Smart (Brookfield, CT/Brookfield) and Stefan Viragh (Columbus, OH/Wellington School). Smart, who is working through injury, went 2-2 with a 0.80 GAA last fall. Junior midfielder Tristan Back (London, England/King Alfred School) and freshman back Malcolm Eaton (Ayer, MA/Saint Paul's School) are also recovering from injuries.
Maxing out his schedule to a 20-game regular season slate, Cushing and the Lyons begin play at home against local foe Bridgewater State College on Tuesday. Their NEWMAC opener is slated for September 19 at Springfield College, while the league tournament begins on November 4.
"I didn't think we got after teams enough last year," said Cushing. "Our goal this year is to create additional chances and be more dynamic in attack. We didn't have the killer instinct, which is why we spent the spring in the competition matrix and evaluated every day what they could have done to win. At times it's holding a lead, being smart, making good decisions, not taking chances when you have a lead, and doing a little bit more defensively. You can give some stuff up individually sometimes in order to accomplish that. We're still learning."