August 31, 2012

2012 Preseason Flybys (INCOMPLETE)

By Christan Shirk

[NOTE: The following preview was never completed prior to the start of the 2012 season. Nevertheless, what was written may still be of interest and value.  It is presented in its incomplete state.]

Let's run down some of the top teams from last year and others that could become top teams this year and see where they stand coming into the new season.  What players have returned from last year's squad and what do they bring to the table?  Which teams are poised to improve?  Who is likely to fall short of last year's performance?  We'll tackle the teams in order of the final Top 25 of 2011 and then move through some other teams that might belong in this group in 2012.

2011 FINAL TOP 25

Ohio Wesleyan (23-2-0, NCAA Champion) – Lost four and a half starters to graduation, and how important those players, including the national POY, were.  They formed the figurative heart and the on-field spine of the team, not to mention the 51 (of the team’s 77) goals they scored.  Beyond the attack needing to be rebuilt, it’s simply unlikely the Bishops can replace and replicate the talent and chemistry of 2011.  They will probably struggle a bit out of the gate, but they got great coaching, quality players, and tradition and should be Top 25 material ‘til all’s said and done.

Calvin (19-6-2, NCAA Runner-up) - The 2009 and 2011 national runner-up lost their 10-year coach, a couple starters left with him, and a couple starters graduated.  There’s still a lot of experience and talent in the squad, but one question mark is whether the new coach can get the same performances in November from a typically inconsistent regular season team.  Hard to predict, and the only surprise would be if they proved to be a Top 10 side from start to finish.

Oneonta State (18-3-2, NCAA Semifinalist) – They lost 7 starters to graduation, so it would be easy to dismiss last year as an aberration and expect the Red Dragons to fade back into the pack.  But this appears to be a program on the rise.  Coach Byrne used his bench a lot last year and returning players represent 39 of their 55 goals in 2011.  Oneonta should be able to establish themselves as a Top 25 team.

Montclair State (19-4-3, NCAA Semifinalist) – They went further than expected in the 2011 NCAA’s, and it could easily be argued that Montclair has had better squads in the past.  With 7 starters back for the new season, including two repeat captains, they will have the leadership and experience to be Top 25 material.  How well the Red Hawks do may come down to whether they can adequately replace the graduated forward and two midfielders (21 goals, 12 assists combined) so opponents can’t over-commit to shutting down Dan Mendoza who could have an All-American season if he gets help.

Stevens (18-3-1, NCAA Elite 8) – The Ducks have seven starters back, including all three forwards, so scoring goals should not be a problem for All-American Zach Adler and company.  The forwards scored 9, 9 and 8 goals each in 2011, so it’s a balanced attack that should be even better in a second go-around.  Defense is the bigger question mark and might be what limits how far Stevens can go in 2012.

St. Lawrence (18-1-1, NCAA Sweet 16) – The Saints do lose an All-American goalkeeper and a 1st Team All-Region back, but nearly all their scoring is back and more.  Midfielder of the Year Sam DeMello, All-American back Alex Laird, and four more returning starters will be bolstered by the return of a pair of red-shirt 5th-year forwards.  Both were 3-year starters and Brendan Gorman was an All-American in 2010.  The Saints’ attack should be lethal.   

Messiah (18-1-1, NCAA 0-1) – Did the shock loss to Neumann indicate that Messiah’s days of near invincibility and complete immunity to upsets in NCAA play is waning?  Who knows?  There has been a rising tide across Division III soccer, and Messiah doesn’t outpace the pack as much as they once did.  The Falcons don’t lack technical skill or depth, and their possession and ball moment are top notch, but their finishing could improve and if it does they are among the favorites.

Rutgers-Camden (19-3-2, NCAA Elite 8)

Texas-Tyler (18-3-2, NCAA Elite 8) -

Christopher Newport (17-1-1, NCAA 0-1) -
Ohio Northern (20-3-2, NCAA Sweet 16) -

Redlands (20-3-2, Sweet 16) -

Amherst (16-2-2, Sweet 16) – The class of the NESCAC the past couple years, the Lord Jeffs are positioned to continue that.  They return eight starters, losing a midfielder, a defender, and the goalkeeper from last year’s first choice eleven.  That means the producers of 49 of their 50 goals are back to do it again.  Much the same is expected of Amherst again in 2012.
Hope (17-5-4, Elite 8) - Opposing MIAA coaches overwhelmingly (6 of 7) expect Hope to be the conference’s best team in 2012, and that’s saying something given how competitive the top four were last year.  With seven starters back, the Flying Dutchmen look to build on a program-best Elite 8 finish that ended at the hands of the eventual champions.

Luther (17-3-3, Sweet 16) – They had a great season in 2012 led by an All-American goalkeeper.  He’s gone along with seven other starters.  A drop off would be expected, and it’d be surprising if they manage to push for a Top 25 spot.
Trinity (Tx.) (14-2-2, NCAA 1-1) -

Loras (17-3-3, NCAA Sweet 16) – Got edged to the IIAC regular season title in 2011 and then were unceremoniously dumped from the NCAA tournament on their home turf.  The point being: this team shouldn’t lack motivation.  Seven starters are back for the Duhawks and with an always deep and talented squad, they should be fighting for top spot in the North Region and be in the top half of the Top 25.

Dominican (19-3-0, NCAA 1-1) -

Babson (16-3-4, NCAA Sweet 16) -

Neumann (14-5-1, NCAA Sweet 16) -

Randolph (18-6-0, NCAA Sweet 16) - One of the surprises of the 2011 post-season when they came back from 1-0 deficits in four straight games to capture the ODAC championship and then shook-up the NCAA tournament when they upset Christopher Newport in the first round and took Texas-Tyler to overtime in the Sweet 16.  And it was just the program’s fifth season of existence!  Coach Waggoner is doing something right and he has ten starters back for 2012, including All-American forward Corey Sindle.  On paper they should push for a Top 25 spot from the get-go, but it could be a challenge for them to avoid a “sophomore slump”.

Washington U. (15-4-1, NCAA 1-1) -
St. Olaf (16-4-1, NCAA 1-1) -

Hobart (16-4-0, NCAA 0-1) -
DePauw (16-3-1, NCAA 0-1) – As the #2 seed DePauw upset Ohio Wesleyan in the NCAC conference final last year, but lost 8 starters to graduation, including their top scorers, entire back line, and All-American goalkeeper.  Already just a borderline Top 25 team, that’s a lot to lose.  It will be a big challenge for the Tigers to rebuild and it would be surprising if they can get themselves Top 25 consideration.


Wesleyan (11-3-3, NCAA 1-1) – The Cardinals have eight returning starters from a squad that fought Amherst neck-and-neck in the NESCAC.  Among the returners are 2011 All-American midfielder Rory O’Neill and 2009 All-American goalkeeper Adam Purdy.  Their stingy defense (0.62 GAA) remains largely intact and both starting forwards return.  However, unless Wesleyan can significantly improve on their 1.23/game scoring clip, they will live and die by their defense which might be good enough to fight for the NESCAC regular season title but not to be a serious NCAA title contender.

Case Western (15-5-0, NCAA 1-1) -

Salisbury (13-3-4, CAC Reg. Season Champs) -

Western New England (19-4-1, NCAA 1-1) -

Eastern Connecticut (15-6-1, NCAA 1-1) -

Thomas More (16-2-1, NCAA 0-1) -

Gustavus Adolphus (14-2-3) -

Dickinson (11-5-5, NCAA 1-1) -

DeSales (14-4-2, NCAA 1-1) -

Brockport State (13-4-2, NCAA 1-0-1) -

Pacific Lutheran (15-4-0, NCAA 0-1) -

Oglethorpe (17-4-0, NCAA 0-1) - One of 2011's biggest surprises, the Petrels have ten starters back from the squad that went undefeated in SCAC play (unbalanced schedule meant they avoided Trinity) and won the SCAC tournament.  They are now in the new Southern Athletic Association (SAA) where they are probably the favorites.  If they build on last season and can lead the new conference, they will probably find themselves in the Top 25.

North Park (11-4-3, NCAA 0-1) -

Merchant Marine (11-7-1, NCAA 0-1) -

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (15-6-1, NCAA 1-1) -


Muhlenberg (10-6-1, NCAA 0-1) - Muhlenberg only needs to replace two starters from 2011, both midfielders.  Back are eight starters including three All-Centennial Conference 1st Teamers.  But better than that, two-time All-American midfielder Cody Antonini is back after a year's absence.  For an offense that scored just 22 goals (1.27/game) last year, Antonini may be just want the Mules need having led the team with 16 goals and 7 assists in 2010 and making the players around him better.  Muhlenberg should be as good as anyone in the Centennial and a Top 25 team.

Williams (9-4-3) – It doesn’t happen too often, but the Ephs did not make the NCAA tournament in 2011.  The biggest culprit was a lack of scoring.  They retain seven starters from 2011, and even with a couple losses in the back line they should continue to be stingy in defense led by All-American Rata .  But to get back among the top teams in the country they more goals.  That might depend on how quickly their incoming forward from Ghana can find his feet and how frequently he can find the back of the net.

York  (Pa.) (11-6-5, NCAA 0-1) – Return 7 starters representing 32 of the 33 goals scored in 2011.  The Spartans improved down the stretch last season and would seem poised for a return to the Top 25.

Olivet (14-7-1) – 10 starters (all but a soph. defender) return from last season’s very young squad that posted 14 shutouts, beat NCAA runner-up Calvin twice and Elite 8 Hope once, and opened the season 9-1-1 before tiring in October.  If they can build on last year and avoid a let-down, this has the makings of team that could inch into the Top 25.

Catholic (14-4-1, Landmark Reg. Season Champs) -

Manhattanville (15-4-1, NCAA 0-1) -

Medaille (19-4-1, AMCC Reg. Season Champs) -

Carthage (14-6-2, NCAA 0-1) -


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

Christan Shirk


Christan Shirk is a Messiah College graduate (1993, Civil Engineering) and has been a keen and passionate observer of D-III soccer for over a decade. Never more than a rec-league player himself, Chris brings an analytical approach and nationwide perspective to He loves D-III soccer history, statistical number-crunching, and off-the-radar action, all of which he gladly shares with his readers when he's able to find time to write.

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