Predicted to finish ninth in a conference of 10 by the official NJAC preseason poll, the men’s soccer team has the opportunity to turn some heads by leaving behind a disappointing 2011 campaign and reclaiming past success under 18-year head coach George Nazario this season.
Six unfortunate one-goal losses doomed the College last fall in what ended up as a 5-8-4 season, with the Lions scoring 1.65 goals per game but allowing 1.94 — up from 1.42 of the year before, when they reached the NJAC title game.
Yet the Lions, who will be without seven graduated players from last year’s roster, will be getting a welcome addition to the team with the return of 2010 leading scorer Ray Nelan.
Nelan missed most of last season due to injury after scoring seven goals through 13 games in 2010, and the Lions’ playoff hopes improve significantly if the fifth-year senior can recover the form he displayed two years ago.
Joining Nelan in the attack will be senior midfielder Ryan Shaw (4 goals, 3 assists last season), junior midfielder Sean Casey (2g, 5a), and senior spark plug Taylor Gregory (3, 3a), who came off the bench for the Lions in 10 of his 16 appearances last fall.
Also returning will be most of the team’s defensive unit, including senior defenders Vince McEnroe and Sean Cunneen, who helped contribute to both of the Lions’ shutouts last season. McEnroe was an all-NJAC Honorable Mention in 2010, when he also picked up five assists.
Right behind the defense and in between the goalposts for the Lions will be returning seniors Matt Frederick (1.39 goals against average) and Aaron Utman (1.85), who each earned a shutout last season.
A shutout would help the Lions make some noise this Friday, when they open the season with a tough road test against Drew University at 7 p.m. , and they face Western Connecticut University on Saturday at 3 p.m.