September 27, 2006

M. Soccer Improving With Sophomores’ Aid

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The men’s soccer program had hit rock bottom. Coming off of a 2004 season in which it accumulated an overall record of 1-14-1, the team failed to win a single game in the Ivy League — finishing its conference schedule with a 0-6-1 mark. Furthermore, the team had not been able to amass a winning record in the Ivy League since the 1999 season, when it finished 11-6-0 (5-2 Ivy) en route to tying for second place in the conference.

[img_assist|nid=18578|title=men’s soccer|desc=Sophomore Dana Flanders (11) shields the ball during the Red’s 1-0, overtime loss to Buffalo on Sept. 13, a game in which Flanders started.|link=popup|align=left|width=66|height=100]
“After that [2004] season, the coaching staff realized we needed to make some serious changes,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “So, we decided to strip the program down so that in a few years, we would be able to compete for a championship. We wanted not only talented soccer players but also kids with good character to build the program around for years to come.”

A little over a year since that decision, the men’s soccer team is already beginning to reap the benefits of his fantastic recruiting class, a class which has signaled the beginning of the Red’s rebuilding process.

Scales scoured the country and netted 12 players that off-season: two forwards, four midfielders, three backs and three goalkeepers. They came from as far as Belgium and as close as Ithaca High School, but all of them had one thing in common: undeniable talent.

This is best reflected in the fact that each and every member of the class could boast an extensive list of accolades from their high school careers, ranging from team captain to league MVP, and even state titles. However, as any college athlete can attest, there is a big difference between succeeding in high school and Division-I athletics.

“Obviously there is a big jump between high school and D-I soccer,” Scales said. “The speed of the game is much faster so we wanted to get the young guys used to the speed as quickly as possible.”

Scales did this by fielding an unusually young starting lineup, giving all of his new recruits valuable experience as well as an opportunity to prove they could hang with the competition at the collegiate level.

“We just threw them into the fire that year to see how they would react,” Scales said. “My goal was to challenge them everyday, both in training and games, allowing us to accelerate their development.”

When all was said and done, Cornell completed its 2005 season with a 3-10-2 overall record and finished seventh in the Ancient Eight with a mark of 2-5. Despite increasing its win total by only two games, the young Red squad proved its toughness throughout the year, bringing a competitive mentality to its games that teams of the past few seasons had lacked.

That toughness was best exhibited in the Red’s 2-1 upset victory of No. 18 Penn in its Ivy League opener, a game that most thought would be a blowout in the opposite direction.

After that season, five freshmen went on to earn letters and a majority of the other youngsters made valuable contributions to the team.

The youth movement remains in full effect this year as well, as Cornell consistently starts up to seven sophomores each game in various positions. And with a full season already under their belts, the second-year players have already improved dramatically.

“I think it is plain to see the progress they all have made,” Scales said. “And it’s not like these guys are playing fringe positions for us, they play key positions all over the field. The sophomores comprise the core and future of our team.”

Leading the way for the group this year is forward Dana Flanders — who leads the team in points (three), defender Joe Yonga — who is coming off of an honorable mention All-Ivy freshman campaign — and goalkeeper Luca Cerretani, who had accumulated two shutouts on the year along with a sparkling 0.72 goals against average.

“Our goal when we brought these guys in was to compete for a championship within four years,” Scaled said. “And that is exactly what we have done. These players have a real chance to make history.”