Reloaded Bearcats Look to Build on Last Season's Success|
Aug. 23, 2011
By Jeremy Powers
The men's soccer team at the University of Cincinnati will open the 2011 season with a trip to Western Michigan University. The first whistle between the Bearcats and Broncos will sound at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27. Cincinnati ended its preseason slate with a 1-1 tie against the Cleveland State Vikings this past Saturday.
Head coach Hylton Dayes spoke to the excellent non-conference schedule that the Bearcats have in front of them. Western Michigan is coming off a 3-3 tie against Cincinnati's BIG EAST foe, DePaul, in which the Blue Demons needed a last minute goal to achieve a draw in Kalamazoo, Mich. The Broncos finished second in the Mid American Conference last season behind the Akron Zips who were national champions.
"They're a very, very good team and they're good at home," Dayes said. "It is going to be a real test for us in our first game."
Other notable non-conference games for the Bearcats include matches against ACC powerhouse Virginia and the Cavalier's in-state rival, Virginia Tech. Cincinnati will travel to Blacksburg, Va., to compete in the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational Sept. 2 through Sept. 4.
"If we get the results against this schedule then we'll put ourselves in a position to be in the at-large pool for the NCAA tournament," Dayes said. "We are going to get a chance to play against teams that we normally don't play, like Virginia who have five, six or seven national championships."
Notable conference games for the Bearcats include the No. 1 team in the nation, Louisville, and an up-and-coming squad out of Tampa Bay, South Florida. UC will also host an always-dangerous St. John's team.
The Bearcats will attempt to mimic their success from last season without six players from last year's roster who graduated, including starting goalkeeper, Matt Williams. Dayes stressed the fact that the starting goalkeeper for this season has not been chosen yet, but redshirt junior Joey Barnard (McKinney, Texas/McKinney) has the inside track over redshirt freshman Taylor Hafling (Louisville, Ky./Male).
"Certainly I think Joey has a leg up because he has been in the program and there's a comfort level with him," Dayes said. "I think we have a great group of goalkeepers and a good goalkeeper situation."
Cincinnati will also be without their top goal scorer from a year ago, senior Matt Bahner (Cincinnati, Ohio/Lakota West) for at least the start of the season if not the whole slate. Bahner who was second team all-BIG EAST last season is suffering from a knee injury. Even though he is not at 100 percent, Bahner still practices with the team while wearing a protective knee brace. His presence on the sidelines will be a big part in this season's success.
"Any time you lose a player of the caliber of Matt it's certainly not a good thing," Dayes said. "He's working hard to get back and still being able to have him out there and provide leadership is good."
With 12 new players on a squad that finished second in the Red Division of the BIG EAST a year ago, there is a lot of uncertainty as to who will step up and fill in roles. Dayes referred to his team as a continuing work in progress, but he still believes that his team will reflect the strengths that UC teams have shown in the past.
"Our teams have always been good defensive teams, hard working teams, and teams that are pretty fit," Dayes said. "I also think this team can play a little bit better possession soccer and I hope we score more goals than last year given our focus on the attacking side of the ball."
As for weaknesses, Dayes discussed the bundle of injuries that the Bearcats are suffering from early in this season and the possible inexperience at the forward position due to Bahner's injury.
"We have some guys that are injured and that is always a concern when you have injuries to some of your key guys," Dayes said. "People may say that we will be weaker in goal and we may have inexperienced forwards, but those questions will be answered in the weeks to come; maybe six to eight games into the season."
Last season the team only suffered one loss and three ties during BIG EAST play. The Bearcats' NCAA tournament hopes depend on how they play during conference opposition. Good results against a strong non-conference schedule will also increase their chances of continuing on into post-season play.
"The thing you have to do is you have to finish well in your league, you also have to get results in your non-conference schedule, and you cannot have losses to lower level teams at home," Dayes said. "I think if we get anywhere between 9, ten or eleven wins we'll be in the conversation."
The Bearcats were tabbed at number five in the BIG EAST polls for the preseason.
The number one challenge for this Bearcat squad is to match the experience of last season's team. Dayes is counting on the seasoned players to help the newcomers get used to getting through the harshness of a Big East season. This is no small task, but UC has a lot of new features to help them continue success.
"This group has a lot of young guys who haven't played a BIG EAST game yet," Dayes said. "They don't understand the rigors of playing at Louisville on a Wednesday night with 3,000 people around or going to South Florida and playing in that weather."
Notable Starters and team notes: