Men's Soccer Ready For a Return to Ivy Supremacy

With 100 seasons of soccer in the history books at Penn, the program’s second century will look to start off on a winning note with an exceptionally talented mixture of veterans and newcomers.

The Quakers experienced success throughout the program’s first century, capturing six Ivy League titles, including two outright. In 2002, Penn took a team made up mainly of underclassmen (eight freshmen and seven sophomores) and won its first Ancient Eight crown since the 1980 season.

The freshmen from that 2002 team are now game-hardened seniors who know what it’s like to win an Ivy League title. Like that squad, the 2005 edition of the Quakers incorporates a strong mixture of youth and experience, with five seniors ready to lead a class of 13 newcomers.

With that kind of make-up, Rudy Fuller, the James C. Gentle Head Coach of Men's Soccer, feels the 2005 season could be a successful one.

“When you look back to 2002, it was a very similar situation to what we have now,” he says, noting that three of the five seniors were starters in 2002. “We’re going to really rely on those five seniors to educate the first-year players on what our program is all about, both on and off the field.”

The Seniors
Three of those seniors are midfielders John Rhodes and Jon Abelson and defender Erik Violante. Rhodes and Abelson were solid presences in the midfield, while Violante is the team’s top returning scorer.

Rhodes, who started 14 of 16 games last year, is a three-year starter who has picked up a bevy of awards in his career, including 2004 Second Team All-Ivy honors. He created numerous scoring chances, firing off a team-high nine shots on goal. “Rhodes has been a major contributor for us during his first three years,” Fuller says. “We will rely on his competitiveness and experience this season.”

Abelson, also a three-year starter, partnered with Rhodes in the midfield last year and has provided critical guidance to the team. “Abelson has been a leader on the team for quite some time now. His leadership ability will play an integral role in our success,” Fuller says.

Violante, meanwhile, is one of the league’s top-producing defenders. In 2004, he found the net three times on just five shots and was the team’s penalty specialist, going a perfect 2-for-2 from the spot.

Coach Fuller also knows that with such a young team, leadership will be just as critical off the field as it is on.

“I think just as important as those three is the combination of the two other seniors, Andrew Fenwick and Richard Brushett, who maybe haven’t made as big an impact on the field in the first three years, we’re going to be looking for them to be providing a good example this season,” he says.

In Net
The goalkeeping position is well in hand thanks to junior Dan Cepero, who enjoyed an outstanding sophomore season between the pipes. He played every minute in goal and allowed just 1.25 goals against per game. Cepero made a league-best 5.12 saves per game and posted six shutouts, also tops in the Ancient Eight. Having the keeper position taken care of is good news for Fuller.

“It’s critical, especially with how well Danny has played. He’s a tremendous leader, very even-keeled, he doesn’t get flustered, and does whatever it takes to help us succeed.”

The Defense
Along with Violante, junior defender Andy Howard will help anchor the back after appearing in 11 games last year and netting the game-winner against Harvard in the season finale.

“Howard played a significant number of minutes in the back,” Fuller says. “He’s a very good man marker and is exceptional in the air defensively and in the attack.”

The Attack
On the front line, junior forward Derrick Jumper returns after starting 13 games and scoring a pair of goals last year, including the game-winner against Wisconsin that earned him a spot on the Coca-Cola Panther Classic All-Tournament Team. He is the team’s second-leading returning scorer. Sophomore Derek Hobson will patrol the midfield after starting 14 games and tallying four points as a freshman.

The Newcomers
To replenish the nine seniors lost to graduation, an accomplished class of 13 newcomers will suit up for the Red and Blue in 2005. “There are guys in this class who have a lot of experience and have achieved quite a bit of success up to this point,” Fuller says. “We are eager to see how quickly they develop in our program and what type of impact they will have this season.”

Among them is University of Maryland transfer Keith Vereb. A defender who appeared in five games for the Terrapins last year, Vereb was a captain of the Region I Olympic Development Program (ODP) team and earned international experience playing in the International Soccer Festival in Bludenz, Austria in 2003. He is a former NSCAA/adidas All-American and Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year.

A pair of high school teammates will also journey to Penn as Michael Klein and Kevin Unger join the team after spending their high school careers at Marquette University High School in Wisconsin. Klein is the younger brother of recent Penn Soccer grad Joe, and will play forward after earning regional All-American and first team all-state honors in 2003 and 2004. Unger, a midfielder, was also a regional All-American and all-state selection last year. Both were ODP Region II team members.

The midfield will be bolstered by Alex Grendi and Josh Baugh. Grendi, a Region I ODP team member, was named All-State and Class B Player of the Year at Cold Spring Harbor High School. Baugh travels cross-country to join the Quakers from California, where he garnered all-league honors during the last two years.

On the backline, a trio of local student-athletes will join the team. John Elicker and Andrew Ferry were members of the Eastern Pennsylvania Olympic Development Team and Ryan Porch plays for the Region I Olympic Development Team. Elicker captains the state champion FC Delco Black club team, Ferry has won four state titles in five years with PSC Coppa, and Porch advanced to the state championship game with his club side, the Brick City Who.

Rounding out the class of 2009 are goalkeeper Andrew Healy, an all-state selection; midfielder Andrew Chesser , captain of the six-time defending state champion Las Vegas Premier club team; and forward Omid Shokoufandeh, who was named his league’s top offensive player during his last two seasons at Santa Monica.

Thankfully for Fuller, his first-year players will be given plenty of time to mature and prosper. “If there’s been a change in the program over the last four or five years, it’s that we don’t rely on freshmen to come in and start,” he says. “It’s a huge positive that each individual player is able to come into our program and develop at their own pace.”

Keys to the Season
One key to the team’s success will be to maintain any early momentum they get. After a torrid 6-2-2 start through their first ten games last year that saw them atop the Ivy table and peaking in the polls at 14th in the nation, the Quakers hit a frustrating six-game skid.

“We got off to a good start,” Fuller says, adding that the lack of consistency through October kept the team out of the top half of the table. “Historically speaking, when you look at the seasons when we’ve had success, the one thing that jumps off the paper is that in those seasons we’ve been successful in the month of October.”

Fuller is optimistic that this year’s combination of experience, youth, and athleticism will pay off.

“Our goal every year is to win the Ivy League title, and this year will be no different. We look forward to the challenges that lie ahead and achieving success in 2005.”

-Written by Tim Flynn, athletic communications assistant