NewsCougars Ready to Embark on 2003 Soccer Journey
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Over the past five seasons, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University men's soccer team has enjoyed terrific success as the Cougars have averaged over 16 wins each year. The team has made three appearances in the NAIA Region IX Final Four and four trips to the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament in Florida. Their travel experiences have taken them from Los Angeles to New York to Orlando and many other destinations in between. That same success was also highlighted last season when MVNU was selected to open its preseason with an exhibition match at Columbus Crew Stadium.
This year, the Cougars' preseason training takes them across the Atlantic Ocean to the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal. The team will play exhibition matches against two professional teams there as they prepare for their upcoming season. The team will also utilize its time in Portugal as a mission opportunity as they assist Samuel Simoes, the pastor of a local Nazarene church and a graduate of MVNU.
"I am not sure that you could ask for a better preseason scenario," said MVNU head coach Paul Furey, who led the squad to a 15-8-0 overall record and a third-place finish at the NCCAA National Tournament last year. "Playing superb competition on a beautiful island in Europe and having an opportunity for ministry is about as good as it gets when you are in a soccer program like ours at a Christian university."
The Cougars hope that the trip will bond them spiritually as well as prepare them for another grueling season, which includes a challenging season-opening tournament in Chicago against Judson (Ill.) College, the defending NCCAA national champions who defeated MVNU 1-0 in the NCCAA Tournament semifinals last year.
"Travel-wise, this is a great experience for us going to Portugal and then to Chicago," said Furey. "I hope that we are up to the challenges on the field this season, and the Judson Tournament will be a great early test to see just how good we are."
A stingy defense should again be the strength for MVNU as the Cougars are coming off a season in which the defense allowed just 22 goals in 23 matches. The team will have to adjust to the loss of NCCAA First Team All-American and four-year starter Trevor Knowles in goal, but freshman goalkeeper Jordan Knight comes to MVNU after earning All-State honors and setting a Michigan state high school record with 16 shutouts during his senior season.
Seniors Ricky Warren and Jeremy Hilen, along with juniors Marc Stasiowski and Jamie Hilen, an NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American, all return to anchor the back line that posted nine shutouts in 23 matches a year ago. Sophomore Les Claxon and freshmen Patrick Young and Jon Moore will add depth to the defense, while walk-on senior Josh Schlenker will back up Knight in goal.
"We will certainly miss Trevor (in goal), but we have a very talented back line with a lot of experience," said Furey. "If they stay healthy, they will be tough to beat and will be a terrific line in front of Jordan, who we really believe can get the job done for us in goal."
The Cougars should also be strong in the center midfield where junior Matt Packard and senior Brian Souder have the experience and technical ability to energize the MVNU attack. Packard led the Cougars with 14 goals and eight assists last year to earn NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American honors, while Souder moved into tenth place on the program's all-time list with 18 career assists.
Freshman Daniel Seiffert will also add depth in the center midfield, while sophomore Shawn Morrison returns as a starter at outside midfield after scoring four goals and registering three assists in his first collegiate campaign. Promising freshmen Josh Van Pelt, Stephen Reynard, Jonathan Hoop, and Seth Taylor will also challenge for playing time on the outside.
MVNU returns both its starters up front in junior forward Nate Sommers and sophomore frontrunner Jeffery Hinds. Sommers was an American Mideast Conference South Division Second Team selection as he scored 10 goals with five assists before suffering a season-ending injury with five matches left in the season. Meanwhile, Hinds racked up 11 goals and seven assists in his freshman campaign to earn AMC South Division First Team and NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American honors.
Senior Dave Barry will add depth at the forward position as he contributed five goals and four assists last year. Freshman forward Steven Lesmes will also compete for playing time after scoring 103 goals in high school to rank fifth in New York state history. In addition, sophomore Scott Poole returns after registering two goals and three assists last season.
"We really have a great group of guys and that makes my job a whole lot more enjoyable," said Furey, who has posted a 151-114-15 record in 13 seasons at MVNU. "I think they have a good focus spiritually, and I believe that will reflect in them achieving some good things on the soccer field as well."
After finishing fifth in the highly competitive AMC South Division standings last season and failing to qualify for the NAIA playoffs, the Cougars will look to improve on their conference standing. MVNU will play AMC South Division matches against the University of Rio Grande, Tiffin University, Ohio Dominican University, Cedarville University, Walsh University, Malone College, Shawnee State University, and Urbana University.
In addition to their conference schedule, the Cougars will also play non-conference matches against Kenyon College, Wittenberg University, Geneva (Pa.) College, Concordia (Mich.) University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Taylor (Ind.) University, and Grace (Ind.) College. MVNU will also face the University of St. Francis (Ill.) and host Judson at the Judson Tournament to open the season on August 29 and 30. The team will also host the First-Knox Cougar Invitational on September 5 and 6 that will feature Nyack (N.Y.) College, Trinity Christian (Ill.) College, and Moody Bible (Ill.) Institute.