Colonials Prepare To Defend A-10 Championship
Aug. 16, 2005
Experience will play a central role in the success of the George Washington men's soccer team in 2005 as it gets set to defend its conference title in the new-look Atlantic 10. With Saint Louis and Charlotte joining the conference this year, bids in the league championship tournament will be even harder to come by, but Coach George Lidster hopes the experience of GW's 20 returning letterwinners and 10 returning starters will help the Colonials secure a spot in the conference tournament and a chance to defend their crown.
"We've got eight seniors," Lidster said. "They've been together for three years now and have been in our system for three years. They know each other very well and their teamwork is what's going to make this a successful season."
Several players will be vying for the two forward spots in Lidster's offensive attack. Seniors Jon Allen, Andre Chapman and junior Joseph Siegel saw the majority of playing time up front last year and all three will be major contributors again this season.
Allen, who ranked second on the team in points in 2004 with 17, including six goals, was slowed by injuries at times last year. He is completely healthy now, and Chapman (16 points), with his speed, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Siegel recorded nine points last season, including five (two goals, one assist) in the season finale against Richmond to help propel the Colonials into the Atlantic 10 Championship.
In addition to those three, sophomore Thomas Stuber appeared in 20 matches in 2004 and will add depth to the unit and sophomore Tayssir Azouz and freshman Michael Rollings, The Washington Post's Fall 2004 Player of the Year, will also push for playing time. Lidster is particularly excited about Rolling's potential after he scored 22 goals and recorded eight assists, in leading Sherwood High School (MD) to the state championship.
"Mike is incredibly fast and can be a spark plug in our offense," Lidster said. "Obviously, he's inexperienced and will need some time to adjust to the Division I level, but we hope as the season moves forward he will be a regular in the lineup."
The 2005 Colonials have a lot of depth and experience in the midfield, as well, with seniors Steve Brown, Trevor Martin and sophomore Greg McKay in the center and seniors Frank Ambrosio and Matt Miller on the wings. It will be crucial for GW that Brown dictates the pace of play in the middle because he is essential to the team's transition from defense to offense. An A-10 All-Championship Team selection in 2004, Brown is tied for ninth in school history with 16 assists. He registered four helpers last year and scored two goals, including the game-winner against Temple in the A-10 title match.
Martin will resume his role as a defensive specialist in the midfield. Even with that charge, Martin tallied five points last year in 20 games, including the golden goal versus Xavier.
McKay started nine matches as a freshman and played in 22 games, including both NCAA Tournament contests. He scored one goal and had two assists last season and will be the team's link between the midfield and the forwards in 2005.
"The strength of our midfield is probably up the middle," Lidster said. "Steve, Trevor and Greg played together a lot last year and with Frank and Matt on the flanks that gives us plenty of speed, and hopefully those two will supply a lot of crosses for the forwards."
Ambrosio was named to the 2005 preseason all-conference team and he was one of four players to start all 23 matches last year. He paced the Colonials in points (18) and goals (7) in 2004 and, in addition to getting the ball to the forwards, will again be looked to for scoring punch. Miller, started all 22 games he played in and recorded four assists in 2004. He was the glue for Colonials last year and consistently made big plays for GW when it needed it most.
Sophomore Joachim Walker and junior Arturo Pedroso each benefited from playing a year in the Colonials' system and are expected to contribute more in 2005. Walker played in 14 matches in his rookie year and has the speed to be a major offensive force. Pedroso made nine starts and chipped in an assist in his first year with the Colonials after transferring from Holy Cross. Rounding out the unit is sophomore David McConaghay, who should see more playing time this season.
The Colonials' defense proved to be the most dominating unit on the field for GW toward the end of the season. The Colonials shut out six of their last eight opponents, including North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, and posted a total of seven shutouts in 2004. Senior Ben Mortimer, who joined Ambrosio on the preseason all-conference team and was a first-team all-league honoree and third-team all-region choice last year, is the leader of the group. Mortimer also provided some offense last year, scoring five goals, four of which came on penalty kicks.
Flanking Mortimer will be junior Jeremiah Burke and sophomore Matt Davis. Burke missed eight matches due to injury last season, but he is a tenacious tackler and adds a tremendous amount of athleticism to the group when he is in the lineup. Davis was named to the 2004 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team and rarely gets caught out of position. He contributed two assists in his first year in Foggy Bottom.
"All three players can distribute the ball and they are all very good in the air," Lidster said. "We didn't concede many goals at the end of last season and we didn't give up many in the spring. I'm counting on this group to be very solid all year."
Spelling the first unit will be sophomore Dillon Colucci and senior walk-on Kyle Renner. Colucci saw action in seven games in 2004 and gained invaluable experience playing in GW's NCAA Tournament contest at North Carolina.
The Colonials goalkeeping duties rest on the shoulders of senior Derek Biss. Biss had a breakout year in 2004, starting all but two matches and making 73 saves. He doubled his career shutout total with six last season, including tying the A-10 Championship record with two blankings on his way to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. He also posted his best season goals-against average (1.07) and his 73 saves give him 207 stops for his career, the fifth-most in school history.
Biss may be the incumbent, but sophomore Greg Yahr will push him for playing time. Yahr made two starts his freshman season and played more than 30 minutes against Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament without allowing a goal. He also showed significant improvement in the spring, according to Lidster.
Yahr's classmate, Matt Scheer, also saw a lot of playing time in the spring and could challenge for time in the Colonials' net.
"We have quite a bit of depth and not just in goal," Lidster said. "There will be a lot of competition at all positions, which is good. I think that's one of the real strengths of this team - depth and experience."
With more teams competing for the same number of spots in the Atlantic 10 Championship, Lidster focused on beefing up GW's non-conference schedule this season in hopes of being in a position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That meant lining up matches with ACC foe Virginia Tech, as well as some other of the region's top teams.
The Colonials open 2005 against Patriot League champion and NCAA Tournament participant American University on Sept. 2 in the DC College Cup, which will be held at Georgetown. GW will also square off against District rival Howard in the tournament on Sept. 4.
Road matches at Delaware (Sept. 11) and George Mason (Sept. 17) follow before GW opens its home slate against Towson on Sept. 21 at the Mount Vernon Athletics Complex. The Colonials will also host Rider (Sept. 24) before ending the month at Lehigh on Sept. 28.
The Colonials begin October by hosting the Hokies on Oct. 1 and jump into Atlantic 10 play with games at Dayton (Oct. 7) and at Xavier (Oct. 9). Saint Joseph's and Temple invade the District the following weekend for matches on Oct. 14 and 16, respectively. Coach Lidster's troops play their final road games on the year at Massachusetts (Oct. 21) and at Rhode Island on Oct. 23.
GW wraps up the 2005 regular season with three home dates. The Colonials will host 10-time national champion and A-10 newcomer Saint Louis on Oct. 28. They also will entertain 2004 league regular-season champion Duquesne on Oct. 30. before ending the regular season versus La Salle (Nov. 5). Saint Louis earned the honor of hosting the Atlantic 10 Championship in its first year in the league. This season's conference championship will be decided at Robert R. Hermann Stadium from Nov. 10-13.
"There isn't an easy non-conference game on our schedule," Lidster said. "As usual, I think it will prepare us for the A-10 portion of the schedule and in league play this year wins are going to be very hard to come by. We are going to have to play every game as if it's the final of the A-10 Championship."