Aug. 17, 2006
It didn't take Yale head coach Brian Tompkins long to put last year's heartbreaking, overtime loss to Stony Brook in the first round of the NCAA College Cup in perspective.
"Today you got to see some of the promise for the future," Tompkins said that day of his team that started four freshmen, one sophomore and four juniors.
That promising future starts on Sept. 2 when the Bulldogs host Marist in the 2006 season opener. Fourteen letterwinners and nine starters return from last year's team that shared the Ivy League title, Yale's first league championship since 1991, and made an appearance in the NCAA College Cup for the first time since 1999.
"2005 was a year that proved to the players that their persistence and hard work can result in tremendous rewards," Tompkins said. "After several second-place finishes in the past decade, it was exciting to have Yale soccer back on top of the Ivy League and receiving national recognition in the NCAA College Cup. The Ivy League is among the toughest conferences to win in the country and that made the achievements of the team all the more enjoyable."
All indications are that the Bulldogs, who were 10-4-4 overall and 5-1-1 in Ivy play last year, should contend for the league title again in 2006. Last year's top four scorers all return, along with the majority of a defense that yielded only 16 goals in 18 games. Add to the mix another strong recruiting class and Tompkins has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
"This year's team has the talent, experience and mentality to have another strong season," he said. "Most of our starting group returns from last year and the addition of some talented newcomers should boost the team's potential. As always, the schedule is extremely challenging and will not allow for any breathers from start to finish, so we will need to make the most of our abilities and game savvy. The Ivy championship will not come easily for any team this year, and we will use our non-conference schedule to prepare ourselves to make a push for the title. It will be important to get off to a good start and build momentum."
Tompkins will welcome back two first team All-Ivy selections - one on offense and one on defense. Senior Alex Munns tied for second in the Ivy League in goals (7) and points (17) last year. His 18 career goals are the most of any returning player. Senior Jake Miller was named the team's most valuable player last year after starting all 18 games and helping anchor the defense.
Senior Jordan Rieger, the 2006 captain, earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition last year and is part of a talented corps of midfielders. Rieger tied for second on the team in assists last year with three, including one that led to the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Princeton in the regular season finale that helped Yale earn a share of the Ivy League title.
"Jordan is a terrific example of the benefits of hard work, enthusiasm and dedication," Tompkins said. "He has the maturity and smarts to be an outstanding captain and I fully expect him to lead the team with distinction."
Senior James Stewart also is an experienced midfielder. He appeared in a career-high 17 games last year, including making four starts. Three sophomores made an impact in the midfield in their rookie years. Jon Carlos and Tyler Guse both earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition. Guse scored two goals in 15 games, and Carlos led the team with four assists. Alex Guzinski started 17 games, the most of any freshman, and had one goal and two assists. His physical presence made him a mainstay last year. Junior Matt Perille, who joined the team last spring, and sophomore Alex Afsahi add depth to the midfield.
A pair of freshmen will try to make an immediate impact. Jordan Raybould (Leawood, KS), the younger brother of 2004 Yale captain Ryan Raybould, was an NSCAA All Midwest Region selection at Rockhurst High School last year. Justin Song (San Francisco, CA) was a four-time all-league selection at University High School.
Offensively, Munns will have plenty of support. Senior Gage Hills, who has appeared in every game since arriving at Yale, earned second team All-Ivy honors last year. He was second on the team in goals (4) and points (10). Sophomore Liam Leonard showed an excellent scoring touch in his rookie year, finishing third on the team in goals with three. Senior Josh Block has provided the Bulldogs with a spark off the bench throughout his time at Yale. His first career goal came last year against Rhode Island.
Freshman Kevin Pope (Lakewood, FL) brings excellent credentials to New Haven. He scored 108 goals and added 49 assists in high school.
On defense, the Bulldogs must replace Jon Skalecki '06, who started all 18 games last year. Fortunately, there is considerable depth on the backline. Sophomore Markus Jackson started 16 games in his rookie season, while senior Nick Franchot appeared in 10 games off the bench last year. Senior Evan Stone missed all of last season with an injury but returns in 2006. Two sophomores are also candidates for increased roles on defense. Max Rhodes appeared in seven games, including making three starts, last year, and Frank Piasta impressed Tompkins with his play in the spring. Junior James Craig has shown steady improvement during his time at Yale.
Freshman Casey Logan (Cincinnati, OH) will try to earn playing time. He was the Catholic League Player of the Year at Saint Xavier High School.
The Bulldogs have a pair of experienced goalkeepers - juniors Erik Geiger and Dwayne Whylly. Geiger was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last year after finishing fourth in the league in goals against average (0.94) and fifth in saves (57). Whylly has appeared in nine games in his career and has a 4-3 record with a 0.81 goals against average.
Freshman Travis Chulick (Camp Hill, PA) will compete for playing time in goal as well. He is a three-time all-state selection and earned NSCAA regional All-America honors in 2004 at Camp Hill High School.
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity