October 14, 2011

Midseason stars and surprises

By Christan Shirk

My apologies to everyone who was enjoying and getting accustomed to the flybys and were expecting to find this week's report by now.  The flybys will likely return intermittently in some form or another throughout the rest of the season, but not as extensive in their coverage as over the past two weeks.  Other types of columns will also get my attention starting with this admittedly risky stab at a midseason All-American team.  As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICANS

I was going to do a Player of the Year watch, but opted to give it a different slant by naming a full team.  I know this may be considered premature and may stir some controversy because of who doesn’t get named, but I hope that it can be taken in the right spirit and not too seriously.

D3soccer.com didn’t do any preseason All-American teams like is done for the major Division I sports. However, if I had been asked to put together a single pre-season team, it probably would have been something like this: forwards Travis Wall (Sr., Ohio Wesleyan) and Rob Santaniello (Jr., Ramapo), midfielders Brian Lybert (Sr., Christopher Newport), Zachary Garcia (Sr., Trinity, Texas), Kristoffer Grahn (Sr., North Park) and Sam DeMello (Jr., St. Lawrence), defenders Dennis Mask (Jr., Trinity, Texas), Jake Urbaniak (Sr., UT-Tyler), Sean Bishop (Sr., Bowdoin), and Chad Gilmer (Jr., Augsburg), and goalkeeper Trenton Spindler (Sr., Emory).  Of course, I didn’t know that Spindler would only last two games into the season or that Urbaniak would be converted into a forward (and not a bad one at that: 7g, 4a).

Now we have six weeks of play in the books, with another six weeks to go for the most successful teams.  Who would be on my All-American team now?  I humbly offer the following starting eleven as worthy candidates for All-American honors if the season were to end today.

F - Travis Wall, Sr., Ohio Wesleyan (10g, 9a / 2 GWG / 2.23 ppg)
It was arguable which of the two All-American Wall brothers, Tyler or Travis, was better last year, but with the graduated Tyler out of the picture, Travis is the focal point of the Battling Bishops’ high-powered attack and among the favorites for Player of the Year honors.

F - Eros Olazabal, Jr., Manhattanville (21g 3a / GWG / 3.46 ppg)
It’s not the flashy 21 goals that was most persuasive in a strong field of candidates, but Olazabal scored crucial goals in three of the Valiants’ toughest games.  While Manhattanville had most of their top midfielders and defenders back from last year, they had nothing more than this 4-goal reserve returning at forward.  But he has more than risen to the challenge and is leading the Valiants to their best season since 1999.

M - Brian Lybert, Sr., Chris. Newport (9g, 9a / 3 GWG / 2.80 ppg | Team* +2.89 GoalDiff)
Team leader, midfield general, provider and scorer—Lybert was a Player of the Year candidate coming into the season and he has not disappointed at all and is the biggest reason the Captains are national title contenders.

M - Sam DeMello, Jr., St. Lawrence (8g, 6a / 3 GWG / 2.00 ppg | Team +2.28 GoalDiff)
Another midfield playmaker, the resurgent Saints have become his team as they have developed into a true national title contender for the first time in almost a decade even without the service of All-American forward Brad Gorman lost to injury prior to the season.

M - Josh Adams, Trinity (Tx.) (12g , 3a / 6 GWG / 2.45 ppg | Team +2.96 GoalDiff)
So far is shinning bright in a star-studded line-up full of All-American and All-Region players.  Destined for honors himself this season, his break-out performance compensates for the loss of All-American forward Yuri Rieiro to injury.

M - Brad Joiner, Jr., Loras (7g, 5a / 2 GWG / 1.27 ppg | Team +2.83 GoalDiff)
In a rather stocked and potent squad, has made as many crucial contributions as anyone, especially important in the absence of injured midfield star Malcolm Calbert.

D - Chad Gilmer, Jr., Augsburg (2g, 0a | Team* 0.40 GAA / 7.6 OppShots/gm)
Dangerous on setpieces and a key member of the Auggie backline that had the fifth best GAA in the nation before this week’s loss to St. Olaf in which the injured Gilmer did not play.  Likely lost until the playoffs, his importance may unfortunately be measured by how the Auggies struggle without him.

D - Lucas Thompson, Jr., Gustavus Adolphus (1g, 1a | Team 0.36 GAA / 8.6 OppShots/gm)
Is helping to anchor a backline that has recorded a nation-leading 10 shutouts with a freshman goalkeeper between the pipes.  He’s a big factor in the Gusties being nationally ranked and looking good to make the MIAC playoffs after a two-year absence.

D - Corey Adams, Sr., Johns Hopkins (1 GWPK, 1a | Team 0.58 GAA / 8.2 OppShots/gm)
Senior leader holding together a backline that Hopkins is depending on more than ever with their lowest scoring attack since 2004 and uncertainty in goal as an inexperienced sophomore was replaced by a freshman five games into the season. 

D - Mike Manfredi, Sr., St. Lawrence (0g, 5a | Team 0.36 GAA / 6.9 OppShots/gm)
Part of one of the nation’s stingiest defenses that has 9 shutouts in 11 games and allows very few shots, but also gets up into the attack where he knows how to set-up teammates.

GK - Adam Purdy, Jr., Wesleyan (0.26 GAA / 0.936 Sv.Pct. / 9 shutouts)
After Purdy and the Cardinals struggled through a disappointing and under-achieving 2010 campaign, he is back to and even better than his 2009 All-American form which has contributed to Wesleyan’s undefeated season with 9 shutouts in 11 games. 

* - team statistics for only the games in which the player appeared

Now I know quite well that almost all of these selections can be second guessed and that there are many other worthy candidates out there.  Wall, DeMello, and Lybert were my only sure picks and they comprise my short-list of front-runners for Player of the Year.  I labored over all the other picks with no shortage of options.  If I tried to run down all the considerations and close-calls, I’d have a column longer than The Sports Guy (and probably much less interesting than his).  For that reason I opted to not even produce an “honorable mention” list: how would I have known where to stop?  

I have highlighted eleven talented and successful players having excellent seasons—nothing more, nothing less.  There were many players that just missed my cut and probably countless others who undeservedly never got a strong look from me.  Who did I miss?  Who was I wrong to pass over?  I encourage you to let me know.  Send me an e-mail.

 

TEN FIRST HALF SURPRISES

1. Eros Olazabal – Manhattanville’s 5’-6” junior has come out of virtually nowhere to top the scoring charts this year with 21 goals scored in 13 games.  While the seemingly undersized forward from Milton, Ontario was making just two starts last year and was an unused substitute in six games, his twin brother Erick established himself as a midfield starter and one of Manhattanville’s top players with a team-leading seven assists. A mere four goals in four easy wins in 2010 didn’t hint in the least that this would be a break-out season for Eros.  Sure, anyone with such a haul will invariably have some 4- and 5-goal games against push-overs (he has two), but he has also scored in all but one of their toughest games: two tallies in a 3-goal comeback against Stevens, both goals in the 2-1 defeat of 2010 NCAA participant Merchant Marine, and the game-winner that handed conference rival and previously undefeated Misericordia a 2-0 loss.  He is on pace to eclipse 30 goals which would place him top 10 all-time in men’s Division III history.

2. Oglethorpe – At 10-2-0, the Stormy Petrels have gotten off to their best start in program history and passed their 2010 win total the first week of October.  Granted, their schedule has been far from demanding, but the onus is on their SCAC’s rivals to knock them off after a 4-0-0 start in conference play, good enough for a first place tie with powerhouse Trinity.  No one would confuse the two front-runners, but given that the unbalanced SCAC schedule has excused Oglethorpe from playing the 14-time conference champions, a couple gutsy home wins against Centre and Birmingham-Southern could see them finish in a first place tie with Trinity.

3. Rutgers-Camden – Having missed the NJAC playoffs for the second straight year in 2010, one could have wondered where the Scarlet Raptors where heading under Coach Tim Oswald.  Had an end come to his winning touch that once promised to not only continue the new-found success of the program he inherited in 2006 but to build upon it?  2004 and 2005 had set new program highs for total wins and conference finish (15 wins and 2nd place each year), and the only improvement on those marks under the young coach was the 16 wins in 2008 that was good for a first-ever NCAA at-large berth.  There’s no doubt, he has annually put together one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules on top of a very competitive and demanding NJAC slate, but that approach needs to bear fruit at some point or give way to a re-think.  In the topsy-turvy NJAC, only a little improvement over last year was required to return to the playoffs, but the consensus of the coaches was that a third straight seventh place finish was on the cards.  How sweet it must therefore be for Oswald and the Raptors (12-2-1) to be atop the conference standings and the highest nationally ranked Jersey school above favored Montclair St. (who they beat 3-1 last week), TCNJ, and William Paterson. (Editing note: the original text erroneously ignored Rutgers-Camden's successful 2008 season of 16 wins and an NCAA berth and has been re-written.  My apologies to the Rutgers-Camden program, coach, and staff for the oversight and my appreciation to the reader who brought the error to my attention.) 

4. Baldwin-Wallace – Who would have imagined that 14 games into the season that only 3 minutes would separate the Yellow Jackets from a perfect season?  A 2-1 lead in the season opener was cancelled with just 3 minutes remaining and the host, Elizabethtown, went on to win in overtime.  10 years ago Baldwin-Wallace decided to hire their first full-time head soccer coach, a move that paid dividends when Coach Reid Ayers won a program record 14 games in both 2004 and 2005.  But in the five seasons that followed that total has not been matched or exceeded and Ayer’s goals of bringing the program its first conference title and NCAA berth on the way to becoming a national title contender didn’t seem any closer to becoming reality.  Eight returning starters from a sixth-place finisher in the OAC didn’t have anyone predicting a 13-1-0 start and a realistic shot at achieving some of those program goals.

5. Alvernia – If you don’t follow the MAC Commonwealth Conference and never followed the now-renamed Pennsylvania Athletic Conference, you would be forgiven for not having a clue who Alvernia is.  Even if 2010 represented just the program’s second winning season ever, a 9-7-2 record wasn’t exactly attention-getting or predictive of this season's 10-2-1 start.  They failed to make the Commonwealth playoffs in their two seasons since moving in, and the conference coachers saw no reason to expect that to change as they predicted a sixth place finish for the Crusaders.  In what has virtually become an annual fight for second place and home-field in the semifinals, Elizabethtown, Arcadia, and Lebanon Valley were seen as much more likely to play second fiddle to Messiah’s lead.  However, a second-ever win over Lebanon Valley followed by a first-ever win over Elizabethtown, has Alvernia poised to be level with the national champions at 5-0-0 when they meet two Saturdays from now.

6. Josh Adams – As one of the least heralded of last year’s starters for Trinity (Tx.) and with three All-Americans and another All-Region first-teamer returning for the Tigers, Adams would not have been expected to shine brightest in this year’s star-studded line-up.  His 13 points (5g, 3a) in 2010 were hardly critical for a squad averaging 3.74 goals per game, but through six weeks this campaign, his 12 goals, six game-winners, and three assists has him leading the charge of one of the nation’s highest powered offenses (3.82 gpg) and has helped compensate for the loss of All-American forward Yuri Ribeiro for most of the season.  His is one of just eight players in the nation averaging over a goal per game coming into this week and isn’t being overshadowed by any teammates any more.

7. Wesleyan – The team that finished top of a seven-team NESCAC logjam in 2009 fell hard in 2010 and the only consolation following a .500 regular season and 3-6-0 seventh place conference finish was an overtime upset of Williams in the NESCAC quarterfinals.  Bowdoin’s Final Four run last year seemed to establish them as one of a big four along with Amherst, Middlebury, and Williams, that no one, including Wesleyan, was expected to crack in 2011.  But there the Cardinals sit, undefeated in and out of conference, having already played three of the big four.  They’ve registered nine shutouts in eleven games as goalkeeper Adam Purdy has returned to his 2009 All-American form.

8. Olivet and Trine – I should have done this column over a week ago, because recent results have taken some of the shine off both these school’s seasons.  And as such I present them as a package deal.  These two relatively unknown MIAA schools, normally in the shadows of conference powers Calvin and Hope, jumped out to 8-1-1 and 7-0-2 records in September before playing each other the first of October.  But it’s much more than the win-loss records which made this such a story.  The two schools were leading the nation with 8 shutouts each and were first and third in GAA (Trine: 0.11; Olivet: 0.29) as the calendar was flipped to October. Trine lost to Olivet, Olivet got wacked by Calvin, and both were upset by Adrian since then, but they remain among the nation’s top defenses and will both make the first-ever MIAA playoffs along with Calvin and Hope.

9. Nick Thon – Two years ago the Trine sophomore was platooned at goalkeeper; last year as the full-time starter he posted an unimpressive 0.771 save percentage and a 1.23 GAA resulting in just four shutouts.  Fast forward to October 11, 2011 and the senior has a nation-leading 0.951 save percentage, a second best 0.23 GAA, and 9 shutouts.  Together with a backline consisting of two senior returning starters and two new starters, he has helped trim a full goal off the team GAA of 1.23 registered in both the last two seasons. 

10. Final Four Fall-offs – I wanted to keep this list positive in nature, and you could easily make a whole separate list of disappointments, but there is no avoiding how stunning it is that three of last year’s Final Four participants are hovering around .500 and could all fail to make this year’s tournament.  2010 runner-up Lynchburg and semifinalists Bowdoin and UW-Oshkosh are a combined 16-15-6 so far this year which most certainly must be an unprecedented drop-off.  


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

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Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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Nov 22: Getting to know the 2013 men's Sweet 16
Nov 10: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 7: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 23: New criteria debuts in today's NCAA Regional Rankings
Sep 15: Week 3 Flybys, weekend edition
Aug 29: What's new in 2013?
Nov 14: Welcome to the Sweet 16, Part 2: the Men
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Nov 4: At-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 3: AQ's, Pool B and Pool C? What does it all mean?
Oct 1: Dear Men's Top 25 Voters
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Sep 3: New rules, new conference, name changes
Aug 31: 2012 Preseason Flybys (INCOMPLETE)
Nov 14: Hellooooo Neumann!
Nov 13: A Super Saturday to like and dislike
Nov 6: At-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 4: So what's this talk about AQ's, Pool B and Pool C?
Oct 24: Week 8 Flyby Distractions
Oct 19: NCAA Regional Rankings (aka 'The Rankings that Matter')
Oct 17: Week 7 Flybys, Conference Edition
Oct 14: Midseason stars and surprises
Oct 8: Week 6 Flybys, weekend edition
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Nov 21: NCAA men: Welcome to San Antonio!
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