Led by the winningest senior class in the program's history, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's soccer team posted a 16-7-1 overall record in the 2000 season as the Cougars played the toughest schedule in the team's 22-year history.
The Cougars began the year by winning the Trinity International (Ill.) University Tournament with victories over the host Trojans and Judson (Ill.) College. The team followed that with a 5-0 win over Nyack (N.Y.) College in the first round of the First-Knox Cougar Invitational.
MVNC suffered its first loss of the season in the championship match of the First-Knox Cougar Invitational as the Cougars fell 1-0 to Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.) College, ranked eighth in the NAIA preseason poll.
The team returned to its winning ways in the next match as MVNC downed Kenyon College 2-0 for the program's first-ever win against its Knox County rival. A 5-0 victory over Urbana University followed as the Cougars improved to 5-1-0 on the season.
MVNC dropped its next two matches to teams ranked in the top ten of the NAIA national poll as the Cougars fell 1-0 at eventual NAIA national champion Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College (ranked #2 in the NAIA at the time) and 3-1 at ninth-ranked University of Rio Grande.
Having stacked up well against some of the top NAIA teams in the country, MVNC went 7-0-1 over its next eight matches to improve to 12-3-1 overall. During this span, the Cougars defeated Malone College, Point Park (Pa.) College, Saint Vincent (Pa.) College, Cedarville University, Shawnee State University, Walsh University, and Geneva (Pa.) College. The tie came in a 0-0 scoreless double-overtime draw at defending American Mideast Conference champion Tiffin University.
After splitting two matches on the team's trip out east, MVNC closed out the regular-season portion of its schedule with an AMC contest at Ohio Dominican College to determine the 2000 conference champion. The Cougars fought hard but fell by the final score of 2-0 to finish third in the AMC - the program's highest conference finish since 1984.
With a 13-5-1 regular-season record, the team earned the fifth seed in the six-team NAIA Region IX Tournament. MVNC upset fourth-seeded Tiffin 3-2 in overtime on the Dragons' home field in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals, the Cougars fell 5-1 to top seed and eventual region champion Roberts Wesleyan.
However, the team's season did not end there as MVNC earned the third seed at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament in Kissimmee, Florida. After defeating Piedmont (Ga.) College 3-0 in the quarterfinals, the Cougars fell 5-0 to second-seeded The Master's (Calif.) College in the semifinals.
In the third-place match, MVNC faced two-time defending NCCAA national champion East Texas Baptist University. After losing to the Tigers in both of the previous two national tournaments, the Cougars gained a measure of revenge with a 2-1 victory to claim third place.
"I am proud of the way that the team finished the season," said head coach Paul Furey. "We played against some very good teams this season, and we proved that we were capable of matching up with them. The team showed a lot of determination and heart throughout the course of the year."
Individually, several players had outstanding seasons. Seniors Rick Collins, Chris Masone, Josh Robson, Tim Lord, and David Brunk led the way for MVNC as they wrapped up their careers with a 64-28-4 record (.688 winning percentage) during the past four years.
"This class of five seniors has experienced the most success in our program's history," said Furey. "Each record-setting year was only to be eclipsed by the following season. Their success speaks directly to not only their abilities as gifted athletes, but also to the character they displayed. If I work really hard in the off-season, I might find a better group of five players. However, I doubt that I would find five more competitive individuals or five better people."
Robson, a forward, closed out his career with a team-high 21 goals and 10 assists in his final season. He will leave the program as the all-time leader in goals scored (79) and total points (196), and he also ranks third in career assists with 38. For his efforts, Robson was selected as the NCCAA East Region Player of the Year. He was also named to the NAIA Region IX Team and the NCCAA All-American First Team.
Collins, a midfielder, tallied six goals and eight assists in his final year as he was chosen to the NCCAA East Region Team. Collins was also selected as the Wittnauer-Kyle Rote, Jr. National Player of the Year by the NCCAA and named an NCCAA Second Team All-American and an NCCAA Academic All-American. He finishes his career as the program's all-time leader in matches played (96) and matches started (96). He also ranks second in career assists with 45.
Masone, a midfielder, recorded four goals and five assists in his last collegiate season. He tied Collins for the school record of most career matches played with 96, and he also ranks sixth in career assists with 25.
Lord, a defender, played every minute of every match for the Cougars in 2000 and notched four assists. Along with Robson, he was named to the NCCAA All-National Tournament Team as well as being an NCCAA East Region Team selection. During his three years at MVNC, he anchored the team's defense that posted 26 shutouts.
Brunk, a goalkeeper, played in five matches during the 2000 season and posted a 1.03 goals against average. He joined Collins on the NCCAA Academic All-American Team.
Junior forward Preston Elifritz had a breakout season as he scored a career-high 16 goals and tied the school record with 17 assists. He was named to the NCCAA East Region Team for his efforts. Elifritz also moved into third place in career goals (34) and career points (104) and fourth place in career assists (36).
Junior midfielders Nels Radtke and Jeremy Stabile also contributed heavily to the team's success. Radtke started the first 20 matches of the season before a knee injury ended his season prematurely, while Stabile played in 19 matches off the bench and contributed two assists.
Trevor Knowles, a sophomore goalkeeper, had a stellar year in goal for the Cougars as he posted eight shutouts and a 1.23 goals against average. He was honored by being selected to the NCCAA East Region Team.
Sophomore midfielder Danny Lueking and sophomore defender Casey Swanson both started all 24 matches for MVNC this year. Lueking recorded one goal and five assists, while Swanson tallied one goal. Sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Pearce also saw action in four matches.
Freshmen defenders Marc Stasiowski, Ricky Warren, and Jeremy Hilen all contributed heavily in their first collegiate season. Stasiowski played in all 24 matches and had the game-winning goal in the team's playoff victory at Tiffin, while Warren played in all 24 matches with 23 starts. Hilen also started in 19 of the 23 matches in which he played, and he registered five assists.
Freshman midfielder Brian Souder played in all 24 matches and recorded six assists, while classmate Dave Barry, a forward, saw action in 21 matches off the bench and posted two goals and three assists.
Replacing the five graduating seniors will be a tough task for Furey and the Cougars, but the team has laid the foundation for success from which it can continue to build.