Men’s soccer sets sights high for 2014

by Katie Jarrett | 9/18/14 1:58pm

After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA tournament, the men’s soccer team has high hopes for this season. In 2013, the Big Green finished 6-7-4 overall and 1-6 in Ivy League competition after having one of the best starts in program history — beginning the season 4-0-4. The collapse came after a 2-1 home loss against Princeton University.

Even after losing some key players, such as All-Ivy center back Colin Skelly ’14, the Big Green players say they are confident in their squad this year and the seven newcomers to make an immediate impact. Multiple players spoke highly of the depth and talent of the team this year.

“All seven freshmen have gotten significant minutes in the past few games, so that just goes to show that they’re a strong class and ready to make an impact,” Sten Stray-Gundersen ’16 said.

Stray-Gundersen, who has played in 30 games, said that as one of the few returning players with significant playing time over the past two seasons, he is helping mentor the new freshmen on the field.

So far, three freshmen have started every game and all but one has made an appearance in all three games this season.

The Big Green is currently 1-2 this season, with losses coming against the past two national champions University of Notre Dame and Indiana University.

“The way we played those teams was very encouraging,” senior co-captain Hugh Danilack ’15 said.

“We showed ourselves that we could play with them and compete with them,” he said. “I think those games were important in figuring out who we were and what kind of capabilities we have as a team.”

Dartmouth won its first game of the season against Hofstra University 2-1 last Sunday. Even though its record is not as strong as last season’s at this point, players are optimistic, especially because of the higher level of competition played this year.

Danilack noted that the team’s front line is encouraging, even though it has only buried three goals this season. Crucial offense will come from striker Alex Adelabu ’15, a First-Team All Ivy and NSCAA All-Northeast honoree and First-Team All-Ivy midfielder Colin Heffron ’15, who played in all 17 games for Dartmouth last season.

“I would take the start and attitude from the team this year over the start we had last year,” Danilack said. “The way we’re playing and the attitude on the team about what we’re trying to do is much stronger this year, and we built that through preseason, so we’re very excited.”

The Big Green has high goals for this season. Several players said their primary goal as a team this year is winning the Ivy League title, despite finishing last in the League in 2013. An Ivy League championship would earn the team a bid to the NCAA tournament.

During 12 years under former head coach Jeff Cook who manned the bench until 2012, the Big Green reached the postseason seven times.

“We haven’t been for two years, and that used to be kind of a norm for us, so we’re hoping to get back to that,” co-captain Gabe Hoffman-Johnson ’14, who is returning as a fifth-year player after obtaining a medical redshirt for the 2011 season, said.

Strong performances against the Hoosiers and Fighting Irish have boosted players’ conference. Hoffman-Johnson said he thinks the team has the talent to not only win the Ivy League but to go further into the tournament than ever before.

“I think the farthest Dartmouth has ever been is the Elite Eight, so if we can make it there, I actually believe that this team can go to the Final Four,” he said. “I think we’re that good.”

The team has made it into the Elite Eight twice, in 1990 and 1992.

Along the way to a potential championship, the team also has some smaller goals, one of which is to win five games in a row, Danilack said.

The Big Green plays its first Ivy League game on Oct. 4 at Princeton.

“It’s already on everyone’s minds,” Stray-Gundersen said. “As the first Ivy game of the season it kind of sets the precedent. We’re just ready to go.”

Danilack pointed to tonight’s home opener against the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and the final Ivy home game against Brown University on Nov. 15 as other key matches.

In goal, the Big Green is returning two experienced goal keepers. Both Stefan Cleveland ’16 and James Hickok ’17 earned significant playing time last season, only allowing just over one goal per game combined.

The team kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. at Burnham Field against UMass Lowell.