When the men’s soccer team goes onto the pitch this season, fans will see many familiar faces from last year’s squad. The Bombers only graduated three seniors from the 2012 season, all of whom were captains of the Empire 8 co-champion team. The current team will use what those graduates taught the squad to improve on the previous season.
“Losing only three kids is usually a blessing, but all the kids we lost were extremely important to the team,” sophomore goalie Kenny Chapman said. “They were key players and leaders, but I think they prepared us well for the next couple of years and gave opportunity for kids to step up this year.”
The Bombers went 7–5–6 last season with a record of 3–2–1 in conference games, helping them finish 3rd in the Empire 8 regular season standings. The Bombers played a tough schedule last year, facing Muhlenburg College, No. 11 in the nation, at home; playing top Empire 8 competition at St. John Fisher College and playing the nationally ranked Ducks team at Stevens Institute of Technology. junior midfielder A.J. Wolfanger said last season’s challenges will prepare the team for this year’s competition.
“The experience we will bring into this season is very valuable,” he said. “We played one of the more challenging schedules in the country last year, and I think we gained a lot of confidence from how competitive we were last year, and no team on our schedule this year will intimidate us.”
Last year, the Bombers had a chance to move on to the NCAA Tournament after a tie with Stevens, which was ranked 7th nationally at the time, in the conference championship game. But the Bombers fell short in penalty kicks, which lost them the match.
Sophomore midfielder Jordan Filipowich said the Bombers will use that penalty kick heartbreak as motivation to accomplish their goal of making it to the tournament this year.
“Getting that close, even though it was a heartbreak, will help us this season, because we know what it takes to get there, and I think that it gave a lot of us freshmen last year a chance to see and play in such a high-risk game,” he said.
In order to reach their goal of making the NCAA Tournament, the Bombers will have to improve on defense. The three graduated captains started all 18 games for their defense, which only gave up 17 goals last season. While this year’s team has defensive depth, players will have to step up. Sophomore back Joey Dobbins, junior midfielder Liam Joy and Filipowich, who all received defensive playing time last season, will have to follow in the footsteps of last year’s great back third.
“We will need players who didn’t see that much action last season step up and show that they can compete against the tough strikers and attackers of our competition,” Filipowich said. “Also, new leaders will have to take command of the back to help navigate our way through our very competitive schedule.”
The team’s bigger goal for this year is to strengthen its offense. The Bombers only scored a total of 15 goals last season. Chapman said they need to take better advantage of the scoring opportunities they get this year, because goals will help them make it to the postseason.
“I just want to get us to the playoffs again,” he said. “What I think will get us there is goals. It seems obvious, but we have to score more and put away our chances because, as a team defensively, we don’t get scored on a lot.”
The Bombers will have to face some tough opponents early, hosting No. 24 SUNY–Oneonta and going to No. 10 University of Scranton, while having to take on the Empire 8 and No. 13 Stevens. With the tough schedule ahead, it won’t be easy for the Bombers to score goals, and it’s difficult to pinpoint what will be the most important match on their schedule.
Wolfanger said all of the games are important, but the first conference game may be the most essential. This matchup with St. John Fisher will set the tone for the season.
“The first Empire 8 league game against St. John Fisher is the most important,” he said. “We have to get off to a good start in league play to put ourselves in position to make the Empire 8 playoffs and ultimately win the automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.”
The first game of the season for the Bombers is set for Aug. 31 at home against SUNY-Oneonta.