September 26, 2007

Men's Soccer Freshmen Prove to Be Better Than Advertised

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With nine players in an extremely strong rookie class, the men’s soccer team (5-2) could almost field a team with just the freshmen, and the inexperienced squad would probably still be competitive.
“The freshmen came into a team that was in a rebuilding year, and they were asked to play a very big role immediately,” said junior defender Kevin Vieira. “A lot of them have stepped up and really helped us out, especially [freshman] ­Brett Sumpio. That’s a big factor [in our success].”
Sumpio has played in all seven games and is third in scoring for the Red with two goals after netting the game-winner against Vermont on Sunday at Berman Field. The freshman forward received a cross at the top of the penalty area from sophomore Matt Bouraee and took it in.
The shot was the only offensive production in Cornell’s hotly contested 1-0 win, and head coach Bryan Scales is not surprised that Sumpio came through for the Red.
“He’s been really good for us this year,” he said. “All the freshman have made real positive contributions. I think Brett is in a position on the field where we can use his athleticism and his nose for the goal. And it was a terrific goal that he scored [against Vermont]. He took it really well off his chest and had a great first touch and finished it off like a pro.”
Sumpio’s first goal came at the Colgate Adidas Classic in Hamilton, N.Y a few weeks ago. His tally gave the Red a 2-1 lead against Albany going into halftime. Cornell went on to win, 3-2.
The large freshman class is second in sheer numbers only to the ten-strong junior class. As that older group is known for its chemistry and camaraderie, so are the rookies.
The nine: goalkeeper Scott Brody, defenders Matt Stengel, Shane Merriman, Craig Dimbleby and Adam Hardie, midfielders Will Wolfson and Scott Caldwell and attackers Jeff Zimering and Sumpio.
The freshmen have been producing since the preseason, so the coaches saw fit to put many hard-working rookies in the lineup. Six of the freshmen have played in at least one game, while Sumpio, Caldwell, Stengel and Zimering have even broken into the regular rotation. This opportunity so early in the season came as a surprise to the players.
“I thought it would take a lot longer, maybe [I would] come off the bench in a few games,” Caldwell said. “But it seemed that coach saw something [in me].”
Stengel has played in six games as a left back which is, “not an easy position,” according to Scales. The defender has impressed the coach particularly with his consistency.
“Some guys are not in the lineup, and some guys are,” Scales said. “But I think that bodes well for this group. They have a lot of good soccer ahead of them … It’s always a big adjustment to come in and play Division 1 soccer no matter how good of a player you are. Throw in the fact that these guys actually have to go to school too and it becomes a real challenge mentally for them to compete every day at their best. Consequently the consistency is not always there, but I think for a number of them the consistency has been pretty good so far … The only thing that we can ask of those guys is that they watch how the upperclassmen train and that they work as hard as they can each day to improve.”
Scales has, however, noticed the exceptional natural chemistry of the group. It doesn’t hurt that all nine freshman live in Donlon.
“There’s definitely mixing [with people beside fellow rookies],” Caldwell said. “We try to be with different people, but we all get along so well that we find ourselves hanging out with each other. We all live in Donlon, [so we can] just go down a flight of stairs and hang out.”
“We’re a really close-knit group, and we do everything together,” Stengel said. “We’re usually hanging out together every night.”
Four of the freshmen are from New Jersey. Zimering even went to the same high school as Vieira, The Pingry School.
“All those Jersey guys know each other,” Scales said. “We have so many Jersey kids on our team that this is like we’re Jersey North now. Caldwell and Zimering knew each other [before Cornell]. [Sophomore forward Matt] Bouraee played against Matt Stengel in high school. Kevin [Vieira] plays in the same club with Zimering and Caldwell. So those guys all had a good idea of who the other guys were when they came in, and I think that helps our chemistry.”
Vieira played on the same team with Caldwell over the summer and played and ran with Zimering. The freshmen have the support of both their classmates and older teammates.
“I would say that [assistant coach] Joe Schneck and I really made sure we did a good job of evaluating [the freshmen’s] personalities,” Scales said. “All of them are competitive. They’re all first class kids, and they fit in with our group tremendously. That’s not always the case. You want to have good characters first before you have good soccer players.”