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Men’s soccer team kicks around questions as season draws near

Record-setting defense returns, but offense remains a question as team eyes playoff spot

08/18/03

A new playoff format in the Atlantic 10 Conference and a lot of returning players in the backfield from 2002’s record-setting defensive effort have head coach Jack Hermans looking forward to Xavier’s 2003 soccer season.

The Musketeers finished last season with a 10-7-2 record and a 5-4-2 mark in the A-10. The league’s top four teams advanced to the postseason last year, but this year the top six will make it, giving Hermans hope that his squad will advance to the postseason for the first time since 1997.

"This is a big incentive," he says. "In the past, it’s almost always come down to the last game of the season. Imagine how many teams will be in the running until late in the year. I’m very happy the A-10 has done this."

To get Xavier back to the A-10 Tournament, Hermans will count on a defensive unit—anchored in four returning players who set a school record with eight shutouts in 2002—while looking for a major scoring threat to emerge.

"The boys have learned how to play a good brand of soccer," Hermans says. "Now we need to get good results, and qualifying for the tournament with a finish in the top six of the A-10 would do that."

As camp opens, however, the team has two major challenges: where it will play and who will be playing. A state-of-the-art synthetic turf is being laid at the field, and is on schedule to be finished in time for the Atlantic 10 Conference opener in October. Home games prior to the completion have been moved to other nearby facilities. To keep track of where the home games are being played and obtain directions from the University, check the athletics web site.

Who is going to be on the field is another quesiton for head coach Jack Hermans.

"We’ll start with almost 30 guys, so it will be a wide-open battle to see what our first game lineup will be," Hermans says. "The biggest thing we need to do is get the whole team to play well and play together."

Junior goalkeeper Brian Schaeper equaled the school record with five solo shutouts while maintaining a 1.31 goals-against average in 2002. In front of him, seniors Britt Beabout and Jared McCarthy, along with sophomore Chris Wolever, also bring backfield experience to the table.

"The character of our defensive unit is outstanding," Hermans says. "They’re the unsung heroes. They have a very good attitude, and they’re unselfish."

Stepping up offensive power could be the Musketeers’ biggest challenge going into the season, with the five returning offensive players accounting for only eight of the 33 goals scored last year.

Senior Brandon Lalley will be counted on to lead the way in the front of the field, but eight newcomers will join the squad this fall, led by Preseason Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team members Matt Salzano and Toni Skudrzik, and all will have the chance to play.

"We still need goal scorers, there’s no question about it," Hermans says. "I think with all the new people coming in, there will be a fight for the first six starting spots."

With a nonconference slate that includes an opening weekend against a pair of Big 10 opponents, the Musketeers will be playing from day one for a spot in the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the University of Richmond.