Men's Soccer | Jumbos look to continue their climb
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 07:09
In the span of a year, the men’s soccer team went from 5-8-2 to 9-4-2; From unranked in New England to one of the region’s best.; From 1-6-1 in the last eight games of 2010 to 5-2-1 in the final eight of 2011; From NESCAC bottom-feeder to a team that can go toe-to-toe with anyone else in the league.
But after the program’s most successful campaign since 2002, the question is, now what?
“Going from seventh to middle of the pack in the NESCAC is a good accomplishment, but it’s going to be harder to go from the middle of the pack to the top two or three,” head coach Josh Shapiro said. “I think our guys have to understand that they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them.”
Shapiro, who will begin his third season as Tufts’ head coach when the team plays at Middlebury on Saturday, may be the right man to lead the Jumbos to the top. In 2011, he brought in one of the best freshman classes in program history, a group that accounted for 16 of the team’s 26 goals and included its top three point-scorers: Gus Santos, Maxime Hoppenot and Kyle Volpe.
Now, that group is a year older and a year more mature. While the current first-years are not quite as explosive as last year’s, they are technically strong and give the team unprecedented depth. According to Shapiro, five freshmen are likely to see playing time in a 16-man rotation.
“There are going to be a lot of times this year when the second group did better than the first group,” Shapiro said. “And that’s not because the first group is bad.”
A number of competitive positional battles are shaping up. On defense, sophomore center backs Peter Lee-Kramer and Sam Williams are returning and could be challenged for playing time by junior Luke Boothe. All-region senior Pat Bauer returns at left back after starting all but one game last year, while a tight race is developing at right back between junior Ben Ewing and freshman Connor Schaible.
The midfield is incredibly deep, featuring not only Volpe, but also sophomores Kento Nakamura and Michael Miele, senior Rafa Ramos-Meyer and a couple of freshmen who could also see time.
On the outside, Santos will look to build on a remarkable 20-point, all-region freshman campaign in which he took a whopping 45 shots. He’ll be joined up front by Hoppenet, who was second on the team in points last year, junior Jono Edelman, who scored five points mostly coming off the bench in 2011, junior Scott Blumenthal, senior John Lewis and freshmen Connor Brown, Jason Kayne and Josh Voto.
Meanwhile, the starting goalie position is still up for grabs, with junior Wyatt Zeller, sophomore Nick Woolf and freshman Nick Moeser all vying for the spot.
“I don’t think anyone has locked their job up,” Shapiro said.
Regardless of who’s on the field, the Jumbos will try to play to their strengths: speed and technical ability. They may be outsized by NESCAC powerhouses like Amherst, Williams and Middlebury, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be overmatched.
“We’re going to be a possession-oriented soccer team that’s going to try and use the skill that we have to unlock some of the speed and explosiveness that we have,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to be a team that tries to get the ball down on the ground and create openings that will allow our quick guys to exploit and get behind defenses.”
One thing is for sure: Under Shapiro’s watch, the Jumbos will not be outworked.
“Everything with Coach Shapiro is precise, it’s timed out, it’s mapped out,” Zeller said. “There’s never a time when you’re just kind of lollygagging and not focusing on getting better. You’re always improving your game and improving the team.”
For the seniors who have seen the team rise from the depths – namely a 2-10-2 record in 2009 – watching the program evolve into what it is today has been extremely rewarding.
“It’s been remarkable to see the whole change in direction of the program,” Ramos-Meyer said. “The focus, from the players all the way to the coaching staff, really reflects the seriousness and dedication, and the fact that we are on the rise. It’s been a wonderful thing to see.”
And yet the process is far from complete. Sure, the Jumbos have emerged from the NESCAC cellar, but that is just the first step. They lost in the first round of the playoffs last year. They haven’t hosted or won a playoff game since 2001. They haven’t ever reached the NCAA Tournament.
“We haven’t done anything,” Zeller said. “We finished top five and we lost our first-round NESCAC game at Williams. Yeah, we had a great regular season and we made great strides, but I don’t think we necessarily deserve to be one of the most coveted sports teams at Tufts yet. I think we do have something to prove, and it’s not just good enough to have a good regular season.”
Still, in the quest to build a winner for years to come, a good first step would be to beat Middlebury on Saturday.
“A win there would just be absolutely monumental,” Zeller said. “We start away at Middlebury, away at Wesleyan [Sept. 15], who are two top-four teams in the NESCAC. That could be the season right there.”
Shapiro added, “To go on the road in the NESCAC and get a quality win would be an excellent way to start what we’re doing here.”