Following 2015 championship, men’s soccer receives recognition

by Kourtney Kawano | 9/16/16 12:15am

Rankings aren’t everything when thinking about the best school, and that’s also true for the men’s soccer team. Despite ranking well in a number of lists, the team is thinking about more than just the numbers as they head into the season.

The Big Green ended its 2015 campaign with a second consecutive Ivy League Championship, an automatic berth in the NCAA College Cup and a spot on the NCAA Men’s Soccer RPI ranking. After graduating only six seniors while retaining multiple players who have garnered Ivy League accolades, it wasn’t surprising that the team opened 2016 with a top 25 ranking among Division I schools. During preseason, analysts for Top Drawer Soccer, a website that publishes weekly polls of college teams’ rankings, placed Dartmouth at number 22. During this period, the Big Green was the only Ivy League institution to make the list, which included several powerhouse schools from the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big East conferences.

Now in his fourth year, head coach Chad Riley said receiving the early recognition is flattering because it gives credit to what last year’s team accomplished, but it is a bit arbitrary until NCAA selection season.

“We don’t really talk much about [the rankings],” Riley said. “We’ve been ranked periodically throughout the last three seasons so I don’t think it has a huge impact on the guys.”

Due to Ivy League regulations, the Big Green’s season could not officially begin until Sept. 2, which occurred a week after other conferences had already started. By the time Dartmouth faced the University of Kentucky, the Wildcats had already played two games. The situation was similar when the Big Green played Xavier University, the University of Washington and Seattle University. All three opponents had an advantage of an extra week’s worth of competing to develop team chemistry.

Team captains James Hickok ’17 and Emmanuel Arteaga ’17 echoed how playing teams who start earlier in the season is a welcomed challenge because it sets the standard for the remaining games. That isn’t to say doing so doesn’t come with its difficulties. The team only has a week to incorporate the freshmen and begin developing chemistry to create offensive and defensive plays. The dwarfed time span is especially odd when considering the men need to play against teams that have been training since July.

For Arteaga, playing other nationally-ranked teams early this season is reminiscent of his sophomore year, when the team opened against the University of Notre Dame, a team that was ranked second in the country. Despite the 4-1 loss in 2014, he credited the game’s impact in determining how hard the men needed to work, resulting in the team’s winning the Ivy League Championship.

Strangely, the Big Green started off the 2016 season in a similar fashion to its championship season last year. The men opened with two double overtime games against Kentucky and Xavier to parallel the 2015 games against the University of Connecticut and the College of the Holy Cross. The only difference was that this year, the Big Green played to a 1-1 draw against the Wildcats and the Musketeers, versus tying the Huskies and beating the Crusaders in the prior season.

Fortunately, Dartmouth improved on its performance against Washington and Seattle from last year. Although the Big Green lost to the Huskies, 1-0, for the second consecutive year, the team’s defense allowed fewer goals. Against the Red Hawks, the team was able to avenge its 2-1 loss in 2015 with a well-earned 2-1 win at Burnham Field.

Despite playing teams of an arguably higher caliber, Hickok said the men are still eager to buckle down after not starting the season with the results the team wanted.

Riley said the team played very well considering the hurdle in overcoming the extra week their opponents had.

In week three, Top Drawer Soccer ranked Dartmouth at number 16, while its opponents Kentucky and Seattle were placed at numbers 10 and 24 respectively. Now in its fourth week, the sports analysts and voters are eagerly waiting to watch and judge every pass and kick attempted. It is, after all, a thriving business to critique college athletes. Along with Top Drawer Soccer, there’s also Soccer America, College Soccer News and HERO Sports offering their own take on who deserves to be the best of the best week-by-week. Additionally, coaches who are members of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America participate and vote in weekly polls, which are published on the NCAA’s men’s soccer rankings homepage.

Of this ranking system, Riley said the team isn’t really concerned with being first or 30th in a poll. For the most part, they “just focus in on the moment,” which questions the necessity of ranking teams early in the season as well as the reliability of “official college ranking polls.” While ordering people is a natural human response especially in sports, some analysts rank as a way to show growth over the season and to predict who will qualify for — and perhaps win — the NCAA College Cup.

While the men’s soccer team will be sure to take each week and each game as it comes — first with the University of Massachusetts Lowell on Saturday, then with the University of Hartford next Wednesday — rankings truly do not become as significant as getting in the necessary practice in preparation for Ivy League play.

Like Hickok said, “every year, each team has to build its own identity and leave its own identity.” Although it is still far in the making, this year’s team has the potential to forge an identity of being one of the greatest programs in conference history by winning a third consecutive Ivy League Championship, a feat which no other Ivy League team has accomplished since Columbia University did so by winning an astonishing eight titles from 1978-1985.

“As much pressure as there seems to be, it’s more exciting now that we get to prove how great we really are,” Arteaga said. “Rankings don’t matter to the culture of our team because we know how hard it is to win two in a row and to win three is not going to be any easier.”

According to Riley, the team needs to focus on working toward improving its game.

“Every time we get out there together we want to figure out a way to play well and win,” he said. “While we’re excited to chase history, mainly it serves as a tool to focus on that daily grind of getting better.”

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