November 1, 2007

After Two Years, M. Soccer’s Junior Class Comes of Age

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After the men’s soccer team’s most difficult season to date in 2004, an influx of freshmen learned quickly that they couldn’t act like most freshman classes in Division-I.
“It was made clear to us pretty quickly that we would have more responsibility than other freshman classes,” said junior Dan McKallagat, part of the 2005 freshman unit. “As a class, we viewed it more as an opportunity to have an instant impact on the team.”
That youth movement has now come of age. The team’s ten juniors — the largest class — cover every position but share a common bond.
They were an integral part of the team for two years before reestablishing the Red’s presence on the field from the Red’s opening weekend this fall. Head coach Bryan Scales listed all the juniors as the most important players in the season opener.
“[The juniors] all had very good [opening] weekends and all logged significant minutes throughout the first half of the year, and it wasn’t a coincidence that we got off to such a great start,” Scales said. “Those guys came in fit and ready to go [and] played well in the month of September.”
Junior Joe Yonga is the Red’s everyman, playing all over the field and affecting every aspect of the game. Junior Luca Cerretani is the Red’s mainstay in goal, having emerged as the starter after backing up classmate Steve Lesser his freshman year.
Junior forwards David Browning and Dana Flanders work up front, while classmate Kevin Vieira is a leading defender for the Red. A trio of midfielders round out this important group of third years: Ed Chang, Marcelo Guindon and Miyad Movassaghi, who transferred from American University last year.
“I would describe them as committed, experienced and very important to our program,” Scales said. “They came in here after we had one of our worst seasons, and they were required, or we needed them, to play right away. So guys like Browning and Yonga and McKallagat and Dana and Kevin Vieira, all these guys got a lot of experience as freshmen right away. We took them to Holland their freshman year. … [Taking freshmen overseas isn’t unusual] but it was more important for us to do it with that crew to accelerate their development and get them more games. It’s not a coincidence that all these guys are important players for us, and they’re kind of the group that gives our entire team inertia.”
It is apparent to players and coaches alike that the juniors are a close-knit group. Both Flanders and McKallagat noted that being roommates has contributed to the juniors’ chemistry on the field. Most of the juniors have lived with each other before, live together now or will room together next year.
“The learning curve was pretty steep for a number of them when they first came in, so they had to rely on each other,” Scales said. “That whole crew stuck together. In our league, that’s an important thing to have an experienced group of upperclassmen that really trust each other. … We probably do rely heavily on how our junior class does, and we have since Day 1 when they came in as freshman. That’s what makes us different from a lot of other teams in our league.”
Upon arriving, the current junior class composed over half the team. Still, the players considered interactions with other teammates to be essential.
“We owe a lot to the seniors this year,” McKallagat said. “When we came in, it was obviously a rebuilding year. They had been freshmen the year before, and the guys [who were still on the team] were really committed and took us under their wing on and off the field. We owe them a lot of credit [for the success of the junior class].”
Now, and continuing into next year, it is the juniors’ turn to mentor the crop of young players.
“Now that we’re upperclassmen, there is a lot more pressure to show the way for the younger guys,” McKallagat said. “But just as we responded freshman year, we take the same attitude towards our expanded roles as juniors.”