Positive Pre-Season Poll

Josh Horton, Reporter

The men’s and women’s soccer teams had successful seasons last year, but that isn’t enough for either team in 2012.

Both teams were picked to finish atop the standings at season’s end in the annual Freedom Conference Pre-Season Coaches Poll. It is an important honor for both teams, but the season has just started with a lot of work ahead. Last season the men took home the title as Freedom Conference Champions, while the women lost a tough game to rival Eastern University in the Freedom Conference finals.

The women’s team made it to the round of 32 in the Division III NCAA Championship Tournament last season before losing to Amherst University in Massachusetts, while the men lost in the first round game to Wesleyan University in Camden, NJ.

Women’s soccer coach Mark Stauffer said the team has much higher expectations going into a new season.

“When we lost in the round of 32 last season we met right after the game on the field in Amherst and made our goals for this season nine months in advance,”  Stauffer said. “We want more this year. Our ultimate goal is to get to the final four and there is no doubt in my mind we can do it.”

Last season’s Freedom Player of the Year, Sam Helmstetter, agrees with Stauffer. The senior forward is excited for this season and feels the team can go as far as they want to.

“Out of my years here, there is no doubt I am more excited for this season than any other,” Helmsetter said. “We finally have the depth and the skill we need to compete at the top level and the only thing that can stop us from being great is ourselves.”

One of the biggest problems that Stauffer faces with this new “‘depth” is that certain girls who played often last season may not play as much as much this season.

“Honestly, it’s a good problem to have,” Stauffer said. “We have about six or seven girls who got in games last year that may not get many minutes this season. That’s how deep we are this season.”

Three women carry First-Team All-Freedom selections – senior Laura Roney, sophomore Erin McGreal and junior Alyssa Mocion in addition to Helmstetter, also a senior. Last season’s Freedom Rookie of the Year Erin Roberts will also return.

Like the women’s team, the men’s team also has one of its greatest teams in school history. Even with the loss of their standout center back Bryan Kulbacki, head coach Chuck Edkins feels more than comfortable.

“I’m used to starting four backs and running them for 90 minutes,” Edkins said. “But, this year we have eight guys who can contribute there this season and they are all solid players and even better athletes.”

The Cougars returning senior captain Greg Korhonen, fellow senior Bryce Houdeshel, juniors T.J. Schaeffer and Dennis Helpin, along with sophomores Tim Ryan and Rob Wiacek sit as big parts of the defense this season.

“We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different positions,” Edkins said. “I’m just hoping we continue to work hard and stay healthy.”

Prior to every year the men’s soccer team sits down and creates a list of goals, and the men want to repeat as Freedom Conference Champions as well as get past the first round in the NCAA Tournament.

“We ask our guys to put together individual and team goals for each season,” Edkins said. “We have a solid veteran team and we want to get out of the first round and go deep in the tournament this year. I honestly think we have the team to do it.”

Senior Andy Bush is poised to get the season underway and wants nothing more than to taste the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m honestly just so excited for this year to start,” Bush said. “This is definitely the most excited I have been for a season in my time here. We have such a great group of guys and we all have that common goal. We just have to continue to work hard and we will be fine.”

The Cougars receive a boost in having first-team All-Freedom midfielder Dan Pinto back for another season. Edkins feels he makes the whole team better and really creates tremendous opportunities for the forwards.

“Dan has grown so much in his time here, both as a player and as a person,” Edkins said. “He is a big part of our team and to have a guy like that quarterback your offense is huge. He is a true engine.”

On the men’s side the Cougars expect challenging games by conference foes DeSales University, Eastern University, and Manhattanville College.  On the women’s side the target conference games will be against Wilkes University and FDU-Florham.