For the second straight year, the challenge facing the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's soccer team will be how to top the best season in school history. Following a 12-8-1 mark in 1997, the Cougars posted a school-best 19-8 record in 1998. The team qualified for the American Mideast Conference Tournament and won an NAIA postseason match for the first time. MVNC also claimed its first-ever National Christian College Athletic Association East Region title and finished third at the NCCAA National Tournament in the program's first appearance in the tournament.
Head coach Paul Furey returns nine starters from the record-setting 1998 team. In addition, five seniors with the most wins in the program's history after three years (35) return to lead the team.
"I am probably as excited about this season as much as any season that I can remember," said Furey, who enters his tenth season at MVNC with an 89-88-10 overall record at the school. "It will be tough to top what we accomplished a year ago, but this team has what it takes to make this season even more special."
Senior midfielder Todd Pearce, the Cougars' career and single-season assist record holder, returns to run the MVNC attack. Pearce was selected to the American Mideast Conference Second Team and named an NCCAA Honorable Mention All-American after compiling 11 goals and 17 assists in 1998.
Junior midfielder Rick Collins, a co-captain with Pearce, contributed three goals and 11 assists as he played in all 27 matches in 1998. Classmate Chris Masone also played in all 27 matches and recorded two goals and five assists.
Sophomore midfielders Preston Elifritz, Nels Radtke, and Jeremy Stabile also add depth at that important position. Elifritz, who was an AMC Honorable Mention selection, was third on the team in 1998 with 10 goals and 12 assists, while Radtke recorded three goals and an assist.
Senior defenders Matt Salisbury, Ron Hayes, and Tim Lord also return to anchor the Cougars' defense which posted a school-record 13 shutouts in 1998 and allowed just 25 goals in 27 matches. Salisbury was named to the AMC Second Team, while Hayes and Lord logged over 52 minutes of action per match.
Adding depth to the back line is sophomore defender Brian Rice, who played in just three matches in 1998 due to injuries. Junior goalkeeper David Brunk also returns between the posts after allowing just one goal in four matches last year.
Potent frontrunners Chris Dean and Josh Robson return to pace the MVNC offensive attack. Dean, a senior, was off to a strong start in 1998 by scoring a goal in each of the first two matches, but an injury sidelined him for most of the rest of the year.
Joining Dean at the forward position is Robson, a junior. Robson set new school records with 32 goals and 77 total points in 1998 as he was named to the AMC First Team and selected as an NCCAA First Team All-American.
In addition to this veteran group of returning players, seven quality recruits will don the blue and green Cougar uniforms for the first time when the 1999 season begins.
To start off the recruiting class, Furey addressed one of the team's biggest needs by landing two goalkeepers - Trevor Knowles and Ryan Pearce. Knowles, an All-Conference selection and a District All-Star, posted eight shutouts as a senior at perennial power Westerville North High School. Meanwhile, Pearce was named to the All-Greater Cleveland Team and the All-County Team as a senior.
MVNC also added two forwards to its offensive arsenal by signing Grant Jaars and Casey Swanson. Following his senior year at Worthington Christian High School, Jaars was named to the All-Ohio Second Team in Division II and was tabbed the Central Ohio Soccer League Player of the Year. As a senior at Mount Vernon High School, Swanson was selected to the All-Conference Second Team after leading his team with eight goals and eight assists.
The Cougars also landed Aaron May and Dan Lueking, two standout midfielders. May received All-Ohio honors as a junior at Big Walnut High School after scoring 23 goals and nine assists. He then spent four months during his senior year training with the A-Junior Team in Homberg, Germany. Lueking was an All-Conference First Team selection at Bishop Fenwick High School after scoring 10 goals and recording 15 assists in 21 matches during his senior season.
MVNC rounded out its roster with the addition of defender Matt Hurst, an All-Conference selection from Middletown Christian High School.
"A big key to this season will be keeping everyone healthy," Furey said. "If that happens, then I think that we have many of the intangibles to take us deep into the postseason."
"It is a coach's delight to have a team that is teachable, hard-working, unselfish, and enjoyable to be around," Furey added. "That is what this group is. They care about each other and they care about their faith."
The 1999 schedule should prove challenging for the Cougars as the team begins the season with three matches in California. Besides a strong non-conference slate, MVNC will also look to compete for the AMC title with 11 tough conference matches that include two against teams who received votes in the 1999 NAIA national preseason poll (University of Rio Grande #24 and Tiffin University #37).
The Cougars' road trip to California starts with a match at 4:00 p.m. PST on Thursday against The Master's (CA) College. The Mustangs posted a 13-6-3 record in 1998 and return 15 players and eight starters from that squad.
MVNC's next opponent out west will be Point Loma Nazarene (CA) University at 1:00 p.m. PST on Saturday. The Crusaders are ranked #29 in the NAIA preseason poll with eight starters returning from their 14-6-1 team in 1998.
The Cougars will wrap up their trip with a 3:00 p.m. PST match on Monday at Concordia (CA) University. The Eagles are coming off a 1-18-1 season, but the team returns seven starters and three other players from that team.
"We have put together a pretty tough schedule for this season," Furey said. "The trip to California will really test us early. However, it should also help to make us a better team."