As the 2009 season approached for James C. Gentle Head Coach of Men's Soccer Rudy Fuller, the task of replacing 14 graduated seniors from a squad that claimed an Ivy League title loomed on the horizon.
With the arrival of September - and the 2010 campaign - Fuller is able to glance at a roster which saw two players graduate and 17 back in hopes of recapturing the Ivy crown.
Of the 17 players returning for the Quakers in 2010 seven found the back of the net last season, accounting for 16 of Penn's 22 goals. Combined, the 17 veterans made 159 starts and accumulated 54 points as the Red and Blue finished '09 with a 6-8-3 record.
The Quakers showed tremendous moxie for a club short of experience heading into the 2009 season. Five losses came by one goal, with two of those in double overtime and another a late defeat at the hands of Ivy champ Harvard in the season's final game.
More importantly, the young group found ways to win in tough spots. An early-season trip to San Diego saw the Quakers emerge as champions of the San Diego State Tournament with a 1-0-1 record. The win came via a 3-2 decision over San Diego, the eventual 11th seed in the NCAA Tournament.
A week later, the Red and Blue defended home turf with a 2-0 performance at the Penn Soccer Classic. The Quakers outscored Albany and Navy 5-0 over the weekend, dominating en route to the championship. Later in the season, an early November trip to Brown saw the Quakers defeat the Bears, 1-0, giving Penn another win over an NCAA qualifier.
Three of the players returning to the pitch for the Quakers this season earned All-Ivy honors in '09, led by second-team defender Jake Levin. Midfielders Jason Gorskie and Loukas Tasigianis were received honorable mention nods as well. Christian Barreiro and Thomas Brandt were named Philadelphia Soccer Six All-Stars to pick up two more postseason accolades for the Quakers.
As the calendar flips to 2010, all the character-creating close loses, team-defining gutty road wins and postseason honors are now building blocks for a renewed run back to the top of the Ancient Eight. Fuller has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, starting with Christian Barreiro. The junior sniper has appeared in every possible game so far in his career, and paced the Red and Blue with six goals and 15 points in '09. Three of his strikes were game-winners and he put forth a pair of two-goal contests. Joining Barreiro on the attack will be seniors Tobi Olopade and Loukas Tasigianis. Each had three goals last season, with Olopade adding four assists. Olopade showed a penchant for getting hot in his junior campaign, registering points in his first five caps - including goals in three-straight games. Tasigianis was honorable mention All-Ivy for the second time in his career, coming through with the game-winner at Brown. Travis Cantrell returns for his sophomore season, coming off a rookie run that featured appearances in all 17 games and nine starts. His first collegiate goal was a clutch strike - the only score in a 1-0 win over Yale. Freshman Stephen Baker, a NSCAA/adidas High School All-America who set a school record for goals in a career with 118, is primed to make an impact in his first collegiate season up front.
Patrolling the midfield for Fuller's club in 2010 will be seniors Jason Gorskie and Aaron Ross as well as junior Nick Unger. Gorskie is coming off his first-season as a full-time starter which earned honorable mention Al-Ivy honors. He had his most productive season in terms of scoring with a goal and two assists while manning the middle for the Quakers. Ross has played 33 games over the past two seasons, finding a knack for starting scoring plays with five career assists. Unger, who saw time in 17 games with six starts, is looking to make the jump to full-time starter in 2010. Sophomores Michael Kozak and Alex Tuch each made impacts as freshmen and are set to increase their contributions in year two. Kozak was a playmaker in his 17 appearances, dishing out three assists - tops among all Penn rookies. Tuch scored in his breakout game at San Diego State where he had five shots. Bryan Yasukochi is another sophomore middie looking for action in year two. He saw time in one game in '09, but made the most of it with an assist. Austin Kinn and Alex Reddy are two freshmen set to challenge the veterans this fall. Kinn, a California native, is a versatile player who was twice named all-league in high school. Reddy was a finalist for Alabama's Gatorade State Player of the Year award who has trained in Mexico with his states ODP team and can slide in on the left side.
Two-time All-Ivy defender Jake Levin leads the defense corps, joined by seniors Zach Barnett and junior Thomas Brandt. All three played 17 games last season and bring a wealth of experience to the back end. The Quakers had six shutouts in '09, and this veteran group is a big reason why. Another senior completes the experience level on the back end in Steven Schlaefer. His junior season was his best, with Schlaefer making starts in four of his 13 appearances. Eric Guo started two Ivy games last year and enters his junior season looking to earn more playing time. Three freshmen are in line to challenge on defense - Jonny Dolezal, Ethan Jones and Nicky Yin. Dolezal, a local product from Wynnewood, Pa., has trained in Costa Rica, Germany and South Africa before coming to University City and helped his club team to a national title in 2009. Jones won two state titles as a high schooler in Oregon, and scored the game-winner in the '09 final to prove his penchant for the clutch performance. Yin was selected to the U.S. U16 national team pool and was invited to the U.S. U17 residency program. All three are smart defenders and could add to an already impressive group.
The last line of defense is the goaltenders and the Quakers have four ready for action in 2010. Ben Berg is the elder statesman of the group and the one with the most experience. The senior started 10 games in 2009, his first season as a primary starter. He went 4-4-3 overall with all four wins coming via a clean sheet. Sophomore Garon Smith made the other starts in '09, starting six Ivy games. He was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week after making six saves to down No. 20 Brown. Junior Dan Thau did not see any game action in the '09 season, but enters his second season with the Red and Blue prepared if called upon. The next generation of Penn goalkeeping is in the hands of freshman Steven Hellstern. The Cranbury, N.J. product captured the state championship in 2009, posting a 21-0-4 record along the way. 18 of his wins were shutouts, a new Mercer County record. His performance between the pipes was good for a second-team ESPN All-America selection. The transition from high school goalkeeping to college can be a challenge, but if anyone is primed to make the jump, it may be Hellstern.
The 25 members of the Red and Blue are set to embark on a 17-game regular season which is designed to finish with an Ivy championship and a NCAA Championships' berth. Along the way, the Quakers will play in six states and against teams from six conferences outside the Ivy League. Nine games are on the home confines of Rhodes Field, including three Ivy games. The Penn Soccer Classic is Sept. 10-12 at Rhodes Field and will see Penn take on George Mason and Lafayette. The following week, the Red and Blue take part in the inaugural Ivy League/Big East Classic along with Princeton, Villanova and Georgetown. The Quakers host 'Nova before heading to coach Fuller's alma mater, Georgetown, two days later. Penn State heads to University City on Oct. 27 for an in-state clash before the Quakers close the season with a trip to arch rival Princeton (Nov. 6) and a home date with Harvard (Nov. 13) on Senior Day. The last time the Crimson came to Rhodes Field, the Quakers won an Ivy title in a classic 1-0 win in overtime on a Tasigianis goal.
Up first for the Quakers, however, is handling some Philly Soccer Six business. The 2010 season opens on Sept. 3 at Saint Joseph's at 7:30 p.m. and continues with the home opener on Sept. 5 against La Salle at 5 p.m..
The Hawks are in the first year of a new regime under new coach Don D'Ambra. Saint Joseph's went 0-17 in 2009 and D'Ambra has opened up every position on his roster for this season. Over 50 players were in camp and the roster currently shows 32 players. 15 of those players are freshman and only 10 upperclassmen are listed, so it is clear that the Hawks are looking for new energy and a fresh start. Four of those veterans are defenders, giving the Hawks some experience on the back line. That experience will be needed as Saint Joe's is slated to share goaltending time between a pair of freshmen. Senior Colin Baker has led the Hawks in scoring the last three years and has nine career goals.
La Salle opens with Bucknell on Friday, so both teams will be entering their second games of the season on Sunday. The Explorers are coming off a 6-10-3 season and return senior Ryan Richter to the lineup. In '09, Richter tallied 21 points and was named NSCAA third-team All-Region and Soccer Six Player of the Year. In addition, two Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selections are back in Jeff Pio and Glenroy Chapman. Each had nine points in their rookie seasons.