While an 11-6-3 record and berth in the conference championship match for the second-consecutive season may be considered a great accomplishment by some, Wheaton College men's soccer head coach Matt Cushing was not satisfied.
Not by a long shot.
Now in his 18th season at the helm of the program, Cushing and the Lyons are out to avenge not only last season's double overtime loss in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Final, but to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.
Gone are last season's top three scorers in Yuri Moreira, Alex Redding, and Josh Solomon, who combined for 24 goals and 57 points. The cupboard is not bare, however, as juniors Max Swanson (Lexington, Mass./Lexington) and Will Nesbitt (Holliston, Mass./Holliston) return in 2011. Swanson appeared in 17 games as a sophomore (eight starts) and racked up 13 points on four goals and five assists. Nesbitt, meanwhile, played in all 20 games and potted four goals.
"We are counting on returners Max Swanson and Will Nesbitt up front to score goals," said Cushing. "David Turina will have more of an attacking role as well from the midfield position. We're also hoping freshman Travis Blair can have an immediate impact on the offensive side of the ball."
The aforementioned Turina (North Yarmouth, Maine/Northfield Mount Hermon School) recorded 12 points (2-8-12) in 19 starts while Blair (Hastings, N.Y./Hastings) will dawn the blue and white this fall after a standout career at Hastings H.S., where he helped the Yellow Jackets to a pair of league championships. Senior Conor Finn (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk) provides forward depth after scoring three goals in seven matches in 2010.Luke Finkelstein (Peabody, Mass./Peabody) has had a very good preseason and will be in the mix for playing time in the midfield.
Joining Turina in the midfield will be seniors Pablo Mena (San Salvador, El Salvador/American School of El Salvador) and Chris Thomas (Cumberland, Maine/Phillips Academy). Mena appeared in 16 games (two starts) as a junior while Thomas started 10 of the 18 matches he played in.
Junior Howard 'Scooter' Manly (Ayer, Mass./Lawrence Academy) - who Cushing says 'could be a dominating force at center back' - will anchor the defense for the Lyons after dishing out three assists in 16 matches last season. Seniors Rory McGonigle (Los Angeles, Calif./Loyola) (17 matches) and Matt Flaherty (Westlake Village, Calif./Worcester Academy) (11 matches) will be counted on to elevate their play and to help mentor freshmen Marlon Ramalho (Framingham, Mass./Bridgeton Academy) and Brian Kenny (Mount Vernon, N.Y./Iona Prep).
"We will be a little more conservative with a younger team than in years past," said Cushing, who added that freshman
Perhaps Cushing's biggest challenge this year will be grooming a pair of freshmen to take over the goalkeeping duties. Devin Delfino (Bourne, Mass./Bourne) was both a South Coast Conference (SCC) and Eastern Massachusetts All-Star in 2010 while Jeff Paer (Fair Lawn, N.J./Fair Lawn) was a three-time North Bergen Interscholastic Athletic League (NBIAL) All-Star (2008-10). "Both have been super in training and preseason scrimmages, and they will both see game time this season," explained Cushing.
The Lyons open the season on Saturday, Sept. 3 with a 1 p.m. home contest against Wentworth before hosting Hobart the following afternoon at 1:30 pm. Following this weekend's homestand, the Lyons play six-straight non-conference games before opening NEWMAC competition with a home game against Springfield on Sept. 24.
Despite the loss of several key players, Cushing's goals for the Lyons remain unchanged. "In a very competitive conference, we fully expect to compete for a NEWMAC championship and be in the NCAA tournament."