The men’s soccer team will kick off its 2006 campaign this weekend when it travels to Oneonta, N.Y., to compete in the Hartwick Tournament. The squad — which is coming off a disappointing 3-10-2 (2-5 Ivy) 2005 season — will take on Fairfield today and Hartford the tomorrow.
Although the Red has struggled over the past few seasons, the team expects succes from a large group of young and talented players who logged significant playing time in 2005. Of the 12 freshmen head coach Bryan Scales brought in to resurrect his program last year, five went on to earn letters and the majority of the other youngsters also made valuable contributions.
“It is very unusual in the Ivy League to ask freshmen to play as big a role as we did last year,” Scales said. “But by doing so they had to grow up quickly, and I have already seen some dramatic improvement from them this year. We will definitely reap the benefits of that decision over the next few seasons.”
However, Cornell’s ability will be tested early and often this weekend, as the Red will face two worthy opponents in Fairfield and Hartford. The Stags finished last season with a sparkling record of 14-4-3 (8-0-1 MAAC), accumulatinga 12-game unbeaten streak along the way. Fairfield’s streak was only snapped in a heartbreaking, 2-1, loss to Marist in the MAAC championship game.
“They are a very organized and dangerous team to face, one that is tough to break down,” Scales said. “They also have already had two regular season and three exhibition games under their belts this year, so we will also be playing catch up with them in that regard.”
Hartford will also be a difficult test for the Red, despite a less than stellar 5-9-3 (2-4-2 America East) record last year. The Hawks are coming off of a 2-0 upset victory over N.C. State, their first victory over an ACC team in the history of the program. With such an impressive win, the Hawks will likey be brewing with confidence as they take the field against the Red tomorrow.
The Red will counter with a wealth of experience and depth that it has lacked in years past.
Anchoring Cornell’s defense for the third straight year is senior co-captain Dan Marks — who started 15 games a season ago — and junior co-captain Kyle Lynch, who was third on the team last year with two goals. Both players have been defensive stalwarts since arriving at Cornell and will play an integral role in leading the Red out of its recent funk.
“Both of our captains are very strong personalities and leaders by example,” Scales said. “I have no doubts they will do a fine job leading our club this year.”
The defensive unit — which looks to be the strength of the Red team this season — will also include junior Aaron Vieira and sophomore Graeme Webber in the mix, both of whom performed well in reserve roles last year.
In net, all three sophomore goalkeepers are still battling for playing time. Last year’s starter, sophomore Steve Lesser, tore his labrum and has been out all fall. Meanwhile, his classmates Luca Cerretani and Matt Bullough traveled with the team to Holland this summer and had equally impressive spring seasons.
The midfield unit will have the difficult task of attempting to replace last year’s two leading goal scorers, Kuda Wekwete ’05 and Pape Seye ’05. This task will mostly fall on the shoulders of senior Tom Marks — who tallied five points last season.
“We don’t really care who steps up to fill that goal-scoring void,” Scales said. “I just know we have enough talented guys that I am not worried about it.”
Sophomore Joe Yonga — who was named All-Ivy honorable mention in 2005 — will also look to build on the experience he gained playing significant time as a freshman.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Red will have to do without it’s most experienced player, senior Brian Scruton — who is out for the beginning of the seasonwith a third degree sprain to his ankle. Cornell will look to sophomores David Browning, Marcelo Guindon and junior Brian Kuritzky, to fill the whole.
“I am really excited about the direction the program is headed in,” Scales said. “We have another very good freshman class coming in and I would not be surprised if the program made another big jump this year. Who knows, we could even be at the top.”