Experience, Offense Keys to Jeffs' NESCAC Title Hopes
Contact: Ben Badua
Despite the loss of one of the program's winningest
classes, Amherst takes aim at a second NESCAC title.
Looking to secure a fifth-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, Amherst opened the 2010 campaign on an eight-game unbeaten streak, going 5-0-3 over that span and climbing to 14th on the NSCAA coaches poll.
The Lord Jeffs would suffer their first setback of the season against Middlebury on Oct. 9 before reeling off five-consecutive victories to close out the regular season, outscoring opponents 11-2 down the stretch and posting three shutouts. Amherst then extended its win streak to six with a 3-0 triumph over Colby in the opening round of the NESCAC Championship, before dropping a 2-0 decision to Middlebury in the tournament semifinal.
Despite their elimination from the conference championship, the Lord Jeffs earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament, scoring opening-round victories over Plattsburgh and St. Lawrence. They then played Bowdoin to a hard-fought 1-1 tie in the sectional semifinals, only to be edged in penalty kicks. Amherst finished the season ranked 10th in the final NSCAA poll with a 13-2-4 overall slate.
Amherst enters the 2011 season without a senior class that posted a 55-12-9 overall mark and 24-7-5 league ledger in four years in Purple and White. Since their arrival in the Pioneer Valley, Ian Rothkopf, Chris Skayne, Mark Crane and Chris Linsmayer helped establish Amherst as a perennial contender on the national scene, reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of their four seasons, while earning a pair of sectional semifinal berths and the program’s second appearance in a national semifinal (2008).
One of the program’s most prolific scorers, Rothkopf, a 2010 All-NESCAC honoree, finished his career with 50 points on 17 goals and 16 assists, while Skayne, who started 64 of his 69 collegiate appearances, was a staple in the Amherst midfield for four seasons. “For four years, those guys were the brick and mortar of the group,” said head coach Justin Serpone. “We have to replace the intangibles that group brought. It’s very easy to underestimate the impact of last year’s seniors because they did the things that don’t show up in the boxscore, and that’s going to be the hardest thing to replace.”
Thebe Tsatsimpe '12E is one of four
captains this season.
Hoping to grow into leadership roles this season are captains and returning starters Thebe Tsatsimpe, Sam Kaplan, James Mooney and Lennard Kovacs, all of whom will look to continue to build upon the foundation left by last year’s departing senior class.
“The nucleus of this team has seen what it takes to be successful at this level,” Serpone said. “Over the last few years it’s been a learning time for them, and now this year the burden is on this group, with the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.”
As the only players left over from 2008’s national semifinal squad, Serpone will look to this year’s captains to set the tone, lead by example and ensure that both the veterans and newcomers are paying attention to the details and doing the little things right – both on and off the pitch.
“They are the only guys who have won a NESCAC championship and have been to a Final Four and know what it takes to be successful,” Serpone added. “These guys are captains through shared experience. They have embodied the vision of our program the last few years. They are motivated and have worked hard this summer to make their senior year special.”
Headlining an explosive Amherst offense that led the league in goals per game a year ago are junior Spencer Noon and Mooney. A dynamic one-two punch, they both earned all-conference accolades last year and ranked first (27) and fifth (21) in the NESCAC in points, respectively.
“Noon and Mooney have been a big part of our success for the last few years,” Serpone said. “I expect and believe they’ll continue to do what they’ve done. They’re both great players who work hard and give us a lot on both sides of the ball.”
Also returning to the mix this year is sophomore Jae Heo. A native of South Korea, Heo spent the last two years serving in the Korean navy as part of his nation’s mandatory service requirement. As a first-year in 2008, Heo burst onto the scene by finishing second in the league in points (28), while ranking third in goals (12) and tied for ninth in assists (4).
Looking to also factor in offensively are junior Casey McNamara and sophomore Julien Aoyama, who combined for 18 points on seven goals and four assists in 2010, as well as juniors Brian Morgan and Jelani Rooks and sophomore Robert Gooden.
“We’re going to have some talented attacking players,” Serpone said. “It’s going to be a competitive environment to see who is on the field to get the opportunities out of that group. I think we have the potential to be pretty potent and well balanced this year.”
With the departures of Rothkopf and Skayne, several players could step into increased roles in the Amherst midfield. Tsatsimpe started 17 of his 18 appearances a year ago and could be a stabilizing force, while sophomores Max Fikke and Brendan Caslin should vie for additional playing time alongside junior Alejandro Sucre, who finished 2010 with 12 points on five goals and two assists. Also looking to contribute and compete for time in the middle are Aoyama, Rooks, seniors Dave Masterman and T.J. Kelley, and juniors Jared Hedglin, Chris Lerner and Henry Rouse.
Lennard Kovacs '12 anchors the Amherst
defense as a four-year starter in net.
Anchoring the Amherst defense is Kovacs, a three-year starter and two-time captain. Last season the Wolfersdorf, Germany native went 13-2-4, posting the NESCAC’s third lowest goals-against average (0.59) and the fourth highest save percentage (.833). During his career, Kovacs has amassed a 37-9-8 overall mark with a 0.64 GAA in just over 4,817 minutes of action.
"Lennard has been fantastic, and we know what we’re going to get from him. There aren’t too many guys who have been two-time captains for Amherst men’s soccer, but he’s one of them and his leadership is going to be invaluable.”
Hoping to keep things clear and organized in front of Kovacs are Lerner, Kaplan, juniors Federico Sucre and Chris Nelson, and sophomore Ben Norton. Lerner started all 19 games for Amherst last season and will look to provide some much needed stability and continuity on the Lord Jeffs’ backline along side Kaplan, who started all 18 of his appearances. Nelson and Sucre could also see increased time this season, while Aoyama, Hedglin, Masterman and junior Brandon Saldana compete for time in the Amherst defense.
“Chris Lerner had a great year last year and has a chance to be one of the best backs in the NESCAC,” said Serpone. “We’re looking to Kaplan to take on more of a leadership role as the unit’s organizer and maybe become the heart of our defense.”
As a unit, Amherst helped record the third-most shutouts in the NESCAC last season with 10, while holding opponents to one goal or less in all but two matches.
Joining Amherst and looking to make an immediate impact in 2011 is a talented crop of newcomers in junior transfer Morgan, and first-years Milton Rico, Mike Hoeksma, Matt Tower, Garrett Van Wie, Gabriel Wirz and Nicolas de Bontin.
“I think they’re a small group of first-years, but they have the potential to be a really good class,” Serpone said. “Milton Rico is really talented and will be competing for time. He’s a technical player who can be really dynamic, and Mike Hoeksma can give us minutes as well.”
Amherst, ranked 10th in the NSCAA preseason coaches poll, begins its quest for a sixth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance at Colby-Sawyer on Sept. 10. “Right now our focus is Colby-Sawyer,” Serpone said. “One of the dangers you can fall into if you enjoy some success over a period of time is that you start to look at things as a birthright – like hosting a NESCAC Quarterfinal or NCAA Tournament game. Those are really hard things to do and anytime you can do them it’s special. Our focus is simply on beating Colby-Sawyer and then re-evaluating and focusing on the next game. That’s been our motto.”
With four teams currently ranked in the preseason top-25, Amherst opens its grueling NESCAC schedule against Bates on Sept. 17 before taking on #6 Middlebury on Sept. 18. Later in the season, the Lord Jeffs will also square off with #24 Williams (Oct. 9) and #3 Bowdoin (Oct. 16), before closing out the season at home against Connecticut College on Oct. 26.
“We’re just trying to compete in this league , which as good as any in DIII," said Serpone. "We’re looking to survive and we’d love to make the NESCAC playoffs and take it from there. Hopefully we just keep getting better every day, but it’s certainly not going to be easy. Everyone has a role to play. When the margin of error is so small, it has to be a collective effort. Everyone needs to be involved and put the team in front of themselves.”