By John Boccacino/Sports Information Director
The 2013 season was a frustrating one for the Keuka College men's soccer team, as injuries decimated the starting unit and Keuka finished the year with a 7-6-2 mark.
But taking a closer look at the results, while the Green and Gold didn't qualify for the annual North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) postseason tournament (finished 2-5-1 in conference play), the younger student-athletes rounded into form down the stretch as Keuka went 3-0-1 over their final four games.
Included in those promising results was a 2-2 draw with first-place Penn State-Abington and a 6-1 dismantling of SUNY Cobleskill.
With 16 student-athletes returning, and with head coach Matt Tantalo bringing in a talented group of transfers and freshmen, the talent is there for the program to enjoy a breakthrough season.
"There's no question in our minds that we want to compete for and win a NEAC title. That's the goal and that's definitely there for the taking," said Tantalo, who enters his 10th season with an 81-54-12 record (.592 winning percentage).
"But we know we need to take it one match at a time. Our philosophy is we want to work hard and get better each day. We know that if we work hard and continue to grow and develop, that we're going to be there in the end. This group is hungry and we learned a lot last year as a relatively young group. We have a nice blend of experienced returners who have strong leadership with game-ready freshmen and transfers."
The 2014 campaign begins Friday evening, when Keuka host the University of Pitt-Bradford at 6:30 p.m. in the third annual Keuka College Lakefront Classic. It is part of a home-heavy schedule that features 11 home contests.
On Saturday, Wells and Pitt-Bradford play at 4 p.m., followed by the Wolfpack taking on D'Youville at 6:30 p.m.
The Green and Gold won both games of last year's Lakefront Classic, beating Pitt-Bradford 3-1 and D'Youville 4-0. The Wolfpack have won all four Lakefront Classic contests.
Keuka will feature four All-NEAC student-athletes, led by senior Austin Gerber (Churchville, N.Y./Churchville-Chili), who earned first-team All-NEAC honors for the second time in his career after scoring 10 goals with three assists (23 points) in 13 games.
Junior Joe Maier (Rochester, N.Y./Spencerport) and sophomores Leandro Curran (New York, N.Y./Westlake) and Paulin Kolodja (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas) each earned third-team All-NEAC and provide the base for a talented collection of returners.
"We've always had the strength in the midfield with Paulin and Leandro, and we have a new guy (freshman Romeo Katanga) coming in, so we're definitely looking really good at midfield," Maier said.
"Our defense is strong, too. Playing forward is going to be one of our biggest aspects this year. Last year, (due to injuries) we sat back a little bit and tried to slow other teams down, but now we'll be able to play forward through those midfielders, and it will make everything easier for us."
A deep and veteran-laden midfield will feature Kolodja as the anchor, along with Curran, juniors Ben Schreiber (Hilton, N.Y./Hilton) and Matt Hey (Rushville, N.Y./Marcus Whitman), along with freshmen Edler De Castro (Willemstad, Curacao/SGO Jacques Ferrandi), Mike Celestino (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena), Zach Gressmann (Curacao/Maria Immaculata Lyceum), Christian Hewitt (Windham, Maine/Windham), Romeo Katanga (Manchester, N.H./Central) and Cory L'Hommedieu (Churchville, N.Y./Churchville-Chili).
Gerber leads a dangerous group of forwards who can score and create in open space. Gerber will be joined up top by Curran, Schreiber, Celestino and L'Hommedieu.
"Everyone's been working really hard and guys came into camp in great shape," Schreiber said. "We're just really excited to get out there and start playing. As long as we stay healthy, I think we're going to have a really good year and we can make a run at the NEAC title. We have talent and depth everywhere on the field, and this is just the kind of team you hope for every year."
In the back, Maier is a big, tough, physical defender who will anchor the unit. Sophomore Ben Geloso (Webster, N.Y./Webster Thomas) missed most of his freshman season, but he is expected to contribute heavily on defense.
Sophomore James Ferro (Scottsville, N.Y./Wheatland-Chili) transferred to Keuka Park from Finger Lakes Community College, and the left-footed Ferro is vying for a starting job, as are junior Richie Weit (Churchville, N.Y./Churchville-Chili), sophomore Zach Briggs (Cicero, N.Y./Cicero-North Syracuse) and freshman Noah Titus (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas).
Sophomore Zach Lovell (Addison, N.Y./Addison), the team's most improved player from 2013, will contribute on defense, as will junior Tim Sheridan (Syracuse, N.Y./Westhill), sophomore Rees Davis (Argyle, N.Y./Greenwich) and freshman Jason Grugnale (Rochester, N.Y./Bishop Kearney).
Junior Preston Vick (Kendall, N.Y./Kendall) and sophomore Willie Romero (Jersey City, N.J./Union City) split time in goal last year. They are being pushed by freshman Josh Rasmussen (Troy, N.Y./Troy) for the starting goalie position. Tantalo said all three have shown good potential during the preseason.
"This is the most depth we've ever had in our program," Tantalo said. "We should be a very strong and collective group that defends well, and we're expecting to possess the ball more this year than we have in the past. We want to dictate play when we can, and this group certainly has the ability to do so."
Curran, Gerber, Kolodja, Maier and Schreiber will serve as co-captains.
The NEAC postseason tournament begins with the quarterfinals on Nov. 1 followed by the semifinals (Nov. 8) and championship (Nov. 9). The winner of the postseason tournament earns the conference's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III tournament.
The men's soccer program has finished with a winning record in 13 of the last 14 seasons.