NewsStrong Finish Highlights Winning Season for the Cougars
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - The Mount Vernon Nazarene University men's soccer team won eight of its final nine matches and took third place at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament as the Cougars finished the 2002 season with a 15-8-0 overall record - the team's sixth straight year with at least 12 wins.
After playing an exhibition match at Columbus Crew Stadium against Ohio Wesleyan University to kick off the season, MVNU traveled to Idaho where the Cougars split a pair of matches. Upon returning home, the team finished second at the First-Knox Cougar Invitational with a win over Lee (Tenn.) University and a loss to Cumberland (Ky.) College.
Over the next 10 matches, MVNU went 5-5-0 with three of the losses coming by one goal and another loss coming by two goals as the Cougars record stood at 7-7-0. The team also juggled its lineup constantly as several key injuries forced MVNU to play with a depleted roster.
However, the Cougars rebounded down the stretch as the team won five straight matches to close the regular season 12-7-0. Then, MVNU knocked off Nyack (N.Y.) College 2-1 in the NCCAA East Region championship match to advance to the NCCAA National Tournament in Kissimmee, Florida, for the fourth time in five years.
The fourth-seeded Cougars blanked fifth-seeded York (Neb.) College 3-0 in the first round to advance to the semifinals. MVNU fell to top-seeded and eventual NCCAA national champion Judson (Ill.) College 1-0 in the semifinals, but the Cougars rebounded to claim third place with a 4-1 win over third-seeded Piedmont (Ga.) College in the consolation match to close out their season.
"This team can take a special pride in the way we overcame some key injuries this season and finished strong," said MVNU head coach Paul Furey. "Things really came together the second half of the season, and we played extremely well as a group. We showed at the NCCAA National Tournament that we were certainly among the elite top three, and we came within a goal of playing for the national championship despite only having 12 healthy field players."
"While we did not attain all our goals that we set before this season, we really played exceptionally well for a good part of the year and had some impressive accomplishments," Furey added. "Our defense gave up less than one goal per match, and other than one match (at Tiffin University) we never allowed more than two goals in a match while posting nine shutouts. We also had probably our best showing ever at the NCCAA National Tournament, and we received the American Mideast Conference South Division Fair Play award."
Individually, several players had outstanding seasons for the Cougars. Senior goalkeeper Trevor Knowles posted the second-best goals against average in school history by allowing just 0.97 goals per match. He also finished with the lowest goals against career average (1.22) while posting 20 career shutouts. In the team's final match of the season against Piedmont, Knowles was given the opportunity to take a penalty kick and scored his only career goal.
Senior defender Casey Swanson wrapped up a stellar career by leading the Cougars in minutes played for the second straight year as he helped to anchor the defense. Swanson also scored three goals including the game-winner in the NCCAA East Region championship match against Nyack.
Senior midfielder Danny Lueking contributed two goals and five assists while starting every match for MVNU. Jeremy Stabile, another senior midfielder, added one goal and two assists, while senior goalkeeper/forward Ryan Pearce allowed just one goal in five matches and tallied one assist.
Sophomore midfielder Matt Packard had a breakout season as he led the Cougars with 14 goals and eight assists. During the team's late-season surge, Packard scored at least one goal in seven straight matches as MVNU won each match.
Sophomore forward Nate Sommers followed up a good rookie season by compiling 10 goals and five assists before an injury sidelined him for the final five matches of the year.
Junior defenders Jeremy Hilen (one goal and one assist) and Ricky Warren (two assists) along with sophomore Jamie Hilen helped to anchor the Cougars' defense. Meanwhile, Dave Barry, a junior forward, matched his career high with five goals to go with four assists, and junior midfielder Brian Souder tallied one goal and five assists.
Freshman forward Jeffery Hinds finished the year with 11 goals and seven assists, while classmate Shawn Morrison, a midfielder, added four goals and three assists while starting all but one of the team's matches. Freshman forward Scott Poole also contributed two goals and three assists.
"I am happy for our five committed seniors who will go out on a terrific run through their final season," said Furey of the group that posted a 62-26-5 record during their four years. "While they are outstanding individuals who will be greatly missed, I am confident the returning players will take the torch and continue the success and character our program has come to represent."
With the top five scorers and all but two starters on defense returning next season, the MVNU men's soccer will look to continue its run of success when the 2003 season rolls around.