For the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's soccer team, the challenge for the 1998 season is how to follow up the best season in school history. The Cougars posted a 12-8-1 mark in 1997 to set a new school record for victories in a season. The team finished fourth in the Mid-Ohio Conference, advanced to the MOC Tournament, and closed the year ranked fifth in the NAIA Great Lakes Region. MVNC also hosted the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Tournament.
Another challenge facing head coach Paul Furey and his team will be replacing seven seniors (including six starters) who graduated in May. However, making things easier for Furey is the fact that he has a quality core of returning players and a solid recruiting class.
"I am excited about the upcoming season," said Furey. "I feel that we have landed a solid recruiting class that includes several players who will contribute right away for us. I also have a great deal of confidence in our returning players that they are capable of getting the job done and that we can continue to build on the success that we experienced last year."
"Losing seven seniors who all contributed to our success last year will be hard to replace," Furey added. "However, I feel very good about the group that we have right now. They are very talented and having been working hard. The question still stands as to how our chemistry comes together and if we can stay as focused and mature as we were a year ago."
Senior goalkeeper Josh Bush returns following an outstanding junior year which saw him tie the MVNC single-season mark with five shutouts. For his efforts, Bush was selected to the MOC First Team and the NCCAA All-East Region Team.
Midfielders Todd Pearce and Rick Collins are also coming off fine seasons. Pearce, a junior, set a new school single-season assist record with 13 in 1997. He is now just two assists shy of the school mark of 26. Pearce was the Most Valuable Offensive Player at the Pizza Hut Cougar Invitational, and was also chosen to the NCCAA All-East Region Team as well as receiving Honorable Mention in the MOC.
Collins, a sophomore, finished the 1997 season with four goals and nine assists. One of Collins' highlights was scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Tiffin University that ended the Cougars' 12-year losing skid to the Dragons.
Defenders Matt Salisbury, Brian Dean, and Ron Hayes will anchor the MVNC defense. Salisbury, a sophomore, was the Most Valuable Defensive Player at the Pizza Hut Cougar Invitational, and was also named to the MOC Second Team in 1997 for his performance as the Cougars' sweeper. Dean, a senior, started in 16 games a year ago, while Hayes, a junior, saw action in 20 games.
Chris Dean, a junior forward, and Chris Masone, a sophomore midfielder, join defenders Ryan Stuart, a senior, and Jeff Maxam, a sophomore, as the other four players who saw action during the 1997 season for MVNC. Masone scored three goals and added four assists, Dean added a goal and an assist, and Stuart and Maxam each tallied an assist apiece.
Defenders Josh Hess, a senior, and Tim Lord, a junior, will see their first action in 1998 as both players were redshirts last year. In addition, ten recruits will don the blue and green Cougar uniforms for the first time when the new season begins.
To start off the recruiting class, Furey has loaded up the MVNC attack with freshmen midfielders Nels Radtke, Preston Elifritz, Chris Eliopoulos, Adam Casseday, and Kevin Iannetta.
Radtke led Worthington Christian High School to three conference titles as a four-year starter. As a senior, he was the team's captain and was an All-Conference and All-District selection.
Elifritz, who scored 61 career goals at Miami East High School, was a three-time All-Conference selection and a member of the Olympic Development program in 1997.
The Cougars landed two All-State players in Eliopoulos from Lake High School and Casseday from Elkins (WV) High School. Eliopoulos finished his high school career with 38 goals and 19 assists, while Casseday played more of a defensive midfield.
Iannetta comes to MVNC from Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy where he was a Second Team All-Conference player and his team's leading scorer.
Up front, the Cougars have added sophomore transfers Josh Robson from Akron University and Chuck Wolf from Huntington (IN) College. Robson was a First Team All-Ohioan at Mansfield Madison High School, while Wolfe, who was Huntington's leading scorer in 1997, was an All-Conference and All-District selection at Worthington Christian.
Fortifying the back line are defenders Chad Smith from Marion Harding High School and Brian Rice, the third Worthington Christian player in this year's recruiting class. The final recruit is junior goalkeeper David Brunk, a transfer from Liberty (VA) University.
The 1998 schedule should once again prove challenging for MVNC. The American Mideast Conference (formerly the MOC) will be one of the stronger NAIA conference with the University of Rio Grande leading the way ranked #12 in the preseason NAIA national poll. Geneva (PA) College, Tiffin University, Walsh University, and Ohio Dominican College will each field very strong teams as well.
"With the addition of the new schools to our conference (Geneva and St. Vincent College), it will contribute to making an already strong conference schedule even stronger," said Furey. "Each contest in the AMC is going to be a grueling battle. It will definitely make for a very interesting finish come late October."
In addition to their rugged conference schedule, the Cougars will play eleven non-conference matches. The team will travel to St. Francis (IN) College, Heidelberg College, Nyack (NY) College, Caldwell (NJ) College, and Cincinnati Bible College. MVNC will host Baptist Bible (PA) College, Greenville (IL) College, and Cumberland (KY) College in the annual Pizza Hut Cougar Invitational. The team will also host Cornerstone (MI) College, Capital University, Ohio Valley (WV) College, Ohio State University-Newark.
"Even though this may be a transitional year, I am encouraged by the depth that we have demonstrated so far," said Furey. "We should be an entertaining team to watch, and one that should be competing very strongly in every match."
The Cougars will wrap up the preseason portion of their 1998 schedule with an exhibition match at Kenyon College on Saturday, August 29, at 1:00 p.m. Then, MVNC will open the new season in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, against St. Francis College on Tuesday, September 1, at 2:00 p.m.