It was a cold November day in Oneonta, New York when SUNY Oneonta halted the 2022 men’s soccer team’s season in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament by a score of 2–0.
The Jumbos’ program is renowned for being one of the best in Division III Men’s Soccer, highlighted by four national championships in the last ten years. Throughout last year’s season, the Jumbos kept up with their reputation of playing high-level soccer, yet struggled to match their lofty standards of success in the form of wins, partially due to an inability to find the back of the net. In a year of men’s soccer that was defined in part by a new NCAA rule that outlawed overtime in regular season play, the Jumbos—along with many other squads, especially those in the high-performing NESCAC—fell victim, featuring a staggering seven ties in their 8–3–7 record.
Nonetheless, the squad was undeniably underclassmen-heavy, with first-year and sophomore players recording significant minutes. Even with the departure of some major talents—including having sophomore starting goalkeeper Erik Lauta transfer to Division I powerhouse, No. 19 University of New Hampshire and last year’s senior outside back and All-American Ian Daly graduate —the development of these players provides something to be incredibly excited about going into the coming season. Sophomore outside back Mateo Bargagna, who played as a forward last year, discussed how the Jumbos’ options at fullback have worked to fill the void that the program has without Daly.
“Very, very big shoes to fill … fullbacks are very important for our system because they do a lot of running … as a whole fullback couple of guys we’re very ready to work and do the best that we can to help the team,” Bargagna said.
At the goalkeeper position the squad has two newcomers in addition to sophomore Sammy Kao: sophomore Nikola Antic, who transferred from Northeastern University and first-year Zach Ubamadu, all of whom will compete for the starting role.
Ubamadu is a member of an extremely strong first-year class that features forward Zack Salfi, forward Xavier Canfin, forward Sandy Duggal, midfielder Bijan Akhtarzandi-Das, defender Ethan Jett, midfielder Ben Brown and midfielder Demir Calkap. With this class, the Jumbos will hope to find the pieces they were missing last year. Bargagna commented on the class as a whole.
“[They’re] pretty funny and clumsy sometimes, but everybody came in for preseason and pre-pre ready to work hard, extremely determined to have a great season,” Bargagna noted.
This class may help resolve the squad’s goal-scoring issues from last season.
“I’m seeing a lot of good ball-strikers and a lot of shiftiness up there, so if we can keep that going and put the defenders on their butts, we’re going to be straight,” Bargagna said.
On Wednesday Sept. 6th, Tufts will kick off its 2023 campaign, hosting Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the brand new Bello Field at 7 p.m. That will begin an 11-day stretch where the squad has a whopping total of five games.
“Obviously, we want to play hard, but we [have] to keep our bodies good and stay smart with minutes and recovery … my mentality is to stay consistent and strong throughout the season, so we can continuously perform every weekend and hopefully win a lot of games,” Bargagna said.
Managing an entire season’s volume of games requires extreme personal care, and this workload on players’ bodies is actually the reason that the NCAA cites for its removal of regular season overtime. But it is important not to confuse personal care with hard work; the Jumbos certainly do both.
“I think we have really good work ethic, and our team is still pretty young. Some people could see that as a negative, but for us, we’ve got a lot of energy and dogs on the field that are going to work their [butts] off, and just play a good, 30-deep man roster,” Bargagna said.
These strengths—work ethic, youth, energy and depth—will be crucial in this coming season. If the Jumbos can put things together, particularly in the final third of play, then we could see the team of success and championships that we are used to seeing in Medford again.