Norwich men's soccer preview
Starting during its preseason training trip to Barcelona, Spain last season, the Norwich men’s soccer team broke every team huddle with one word, “family.”
After battling through a 1-5 start to the season, the Cadets ended up going on a dramatic run through the 2011 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament, which featured a double-overtime win over Lasell and then a 1-0 upset win over top-seeded Albertus Magnus to reach the finals.
However, playing their third game in six days, the Cadets ultimately fell 4-1 at Saint Joseph’s (Maine) in the GNAC Championship game, dashing their hopes of garnering the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008.
Sparked by last season’s close-knit group that lost just one player and finished the season 11-5 in its final 16 games, the tradition of breaking the team huddle with “family” has continued once again this year during preseason training.
In addition to returning three seniors, a seasoned corps of eight juniors, as well as a strong sophomore class, NU has added a handful of newcomers that have given head coach Kyle Dezotell an arsenal of unprecedented depth heading into the 2012 season.
“This is probably the most depth we’ve had in my time here,” Dezotell said as he embarks on his seventh season at the helm of the program. “Even in the glory years of 2007 and 2008 we only played 13 or 14 players. We have 20 to 22 players right now who probably deserve to play almost every game which is huge thing for our program to be able to go that deep especially come conference playoff time when you have to win three games in one week.”
Dezotell hopes that last year’s strong finish, along with having nearly every player back with another year of experience playing collegiate soccer under their belt, will give the Cadets plenty of momentum heading into the new season.
“The way we finished last year was what we have been building toward the past couple of years,” Dezotell said. “We’ve been such a young team. In 2010 we had a ton of freshmen out there in starting positions and last year we were basically playing with all freshmen and sophomores.”
Dezotell, who enters the 2012 season just seven wins shy of setting the new program record for career coaching wins, said he’s already noticed a difference during preseason with the maturity of this year’s crop of Cadets.
“This year is the first preseason where we haven’t felt like we’ve been coaching a bunch of kids,” he said. “We have returners who know the routine and know what’s expected.”
A big part of that maturity can be attributed to the junior class that has been making a major impact on the field since they were freshmen due to a large turnover in the team prior to the 2010 season.
“The junior class has been through a lot,” Dezotell said. “A number of them have been starters since they have been freshmen. It’s exciting for us having such a talented class only be juniors when they have the experience of what most college seniors would have already.”
One of the biggest proponents to Norwich’s second half surge a year ago came from the increased offensive production from junior Joe Young (McLean, Va.), who exploded for seven goals with nearly all coming in the latter half of the year.
“Joe had a breakout year last year, especially in the second half of the season once league games started,” Dezotell said of the GNAC All-Conference Second Team forward. “We knew he was a good player but for whatever reason he just wasn’t scoring. Once he scored a couple of goals it just started clicking for him though. He worked really hard this summer and we expect even more from him this year.”
Fellow junior Anthony Amell (Northfield, Vt.) also established a new career high for goals in a single season by chipping in five tallies.
“Anthony is someone who has bounced around for us in many different positions,” Dezotell said. “He’s been our utility guy. Right now he’s factoring in up front and he’s proven a handful. He’s a big strong kid that just keeps getting better and better. If he continues the form he’s in right now he’ll be very dangerous in our league.”
Another player who will factor in up front for Norwich this season will be newly named senior assistant captain Colin Pope (Tunbridge, Vt.).
“Colin is in the best shape of his life right now,” Dezotell said. “He’s looked as good as he has ever looked for us right now. We’re hoping he can give us some quality minutes up top.”
With no one cracking double digits for goals last season, Norwich will once again rely on its midfield to help with the offensive production.
“We more than likely don’t have a 25-goal scorer on our team so we’re going to need goals to come from the midfield,” Dezotell said. “Garrett Shufelt is a big piece of that. When he is in good form he is one of the most dangerous offensive midfielders in the league with the ability to pop up with a goal at any time.”
Shufelt (Clifton Park, N.Y.) returns for his senior season after being named to the GNAC All-Conference First Team and leading the team with eight goals last season to go along with five assists for 21 points, which also led the squad.
Sophomore Chris Bristol (Clinton, Conn.) provided an instant boost to the midfield last year as the only freshman, and one of just four players overall to play and start in all 22 games. He led the team with nine assists.
“Chris had a great freshman year last year,” Dezotell said. “He’s a good player that really helps solidify us in the center midfield. He’s a worker that takes a lot of our set pieces and he racked up a ton of assists last year for us in that role.”
One new face to the midfield this season that should make an immediate impact for the Cadets will be freshman Christian Albrecht (Albuquerque, N.M.)
“Christian has looked really good in preseason,” Dezotell said. “He’s more defensive minded as he is naturally a center back, but he’s really come in and shown that he can play. He’s incredible in the air and he can also pass so right now he’s a great platform for us and we’re going to try and build a lot through him.”
Junior Billy Flanagan (Oxford, N.Y.), freshman Austen McGuire (Overland Park, Kansas), senior Mike Ravenelle (Merrimack, N.H.) as well as sophomores Pedro Rodriguez (Bolivar City, Venezuela) and Derek Morin (South Paris, Maine) will also be in contention for significant minutes in the midfield.
The back line is once again expected be one of the biggest strengths for Norwich. It will be anchored by juniors Ryan Campbell (Damascus, Md.) and Wesley Keslin (Brossard, Quebec), who were both named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-New England North Region Second Team last season.
“It’s extremely rare to be able to return two all-region center backs,” Dezotell said. “They both have great size and they’re gamers. They are also best friends and roommates so that doesn’t hurt anything. Ryan was chosen as a clear choice for team captain this year. He’s a quiet leader that leads by example. We expect a lot out of those two. They are also such a threat offensively, the sky is the limit.”
Fellow juniors Andy Dustin (Canterbury, N.H.) and Nate Bacon (Randolph, Vt.) will also compete for time on the back line.
In goal, sophomore Christian Hallstrom (Las Vegas, Nev.) returns after a strong freshman campaign where he earned GNAC All-Conference Third Team honors. He finished the year with an 8-4 record while sporting a 1.37 goals against average and a .754 save percentage to go along with four shutouts.
“Christian really impressed us last year,” Dezotell said. “He put his head down and worked. When the time came to play a second goalkeeper, he was the one who had shown he deserved the time and he ended up taking the job and having a heck of a year.”
Hallstrom will have to stay on his toes though everyday as sophomore Greg Payne (Budd Lake, N.J.) is expected to push him for time this season.
“You definitely want to have two keepers and they’ll both get time this season,” Dezotell said. “It’s good to have a competition so they can push each other. I think on any given day either one of them could be one of the best in our league.”
Dezotell has liked what he’s seen so far in preseason from his team and he said that he thinks the squad will be able to play a little more soccer this year rather than having to rely on set pieces as heavily to generate offense.
“We’re going to try to possess the ball a little more and have better movement,” he said. “However, with the personnel and strengths we have with 10 players six-foot-1 or taller, we’re going to use set pieces to our advantage. I think we can be as dangerous as any team in New England with set pieces.”
With the depth and talent returning, coupled with the newcomers, Norwich will once again expect to be in the fight at the top half of the GNAC standings.
“We have the players that are capable of winning a league title, but it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination as well as some luck,” Dezotell said. “St. Joe’s Maine doesn’t really lose too much. Albertus Magnus lost their all-time leading scorer but other than that they return everybody. Lasell, Suffolk and Emerson are always good as well too so it should be a competitive season.”
The Cadets will also have the added bonus of a larger coaching staff this year as Hector Tamayo and Mat Koenemann join Dezotell and Eric Nordenson on the staff.
“We’ve had a retooling of the staff since Eric’s time is more limited,” Dezotell said. “Adding Hector and Matt give us new looks at things and some new voices for the players to hear. I think they’ll help us take the program to another level and allow us to do a better job of coaching.”
Norwich will open up the 2012 campaign on Friday, Aug. 31 when the Cadets host Green Mountain on the opening day of the inaugural Cadet Kickoff Classic at 2 p.m. on Howard Field. Newbury College faces Mass. College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) afterward at 4:30 p.m. NU will then take on on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. immediately after MCLA meets Green Mountain in the early game starting at noon.
The eventual tournament champion will take home the inaugural Vic Gardner ’71 Memorial Championship trophy that is named after a former Norwich men’s soccer alumnus that passed away a few years ago from cancer.
“We’re excited about hosting our own tournament,” Dezotell said. “We got some good support from our alumni to help out with the cost and we hope it’s a tradition we can continue.”