By ZACH JAFFE
The Hopkins men’s soccer team looks to return to Centennial Conference glory after four consecutive first round exits in the conference tournament. The 2014 season, which saw the Jays finish with a 9-7-2 record (3-5-1 within conference), began with high expectations. While the Jays did not exceed expectations, they certainly set the stage for what could be a special season this year for Coach Craig Appleby’s squad.
Coach Appleby returns for his eighth season at the helm of the men’s soccer program. Under Appleby the Jays have not missed the Centennial Conference postseason tournament and have appeared in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament Sweet 16 from 2008 to 2010.
The team’s return to the NCAA tournament will start with the back line, where Appleby returns the four main contributors including his two captains, seniors Eric Buck and Andrew Park. Park, a three-time all conference selection, will serve as captain for his second year, while this will be Buck’s first year as captain.
“Like any team in college athletics, we want to win a national championship,” Park said. “It’s obviously important to have that end goal, but we also see the importance of taking each individual game as an opportunity to get better as a team and a family.”
Joining them on the back line are starters from last season, senior Gary Lawrence and sophomore Jonah Muniz. Also competing for playing time will be senior Kevin Caskey, sophomore Eric Herbert and freshman Arden Chew.
The team’s attack also returns six of nine goal scorers from a season ago. Missing from the attack will be midfielder Kotaro Mitsuhashi, a second team Centennial Conference selection who led the team in goals with nine and 20 points but was part of last year’s group of seniors.
“It’s always a good thing when you have experienced members on the team returning for another year,” Park said. “The upperclassmen, a lot of whom saw significant playing time last year, serve as role models for the younger guys both on and off the field. We know what is expected of us from Coach Appleby so we’re here to uphold a standard and push everyone.”
Junior Samy Ramadane and senior Kenny DeStefano, who tied for second on the team in goals with four apiece, return to what could be an effective attack for the Jays. Also missing for the Jays will be four-time All-Conference selection Rob Heuler, who departs after one of the most successful careers in a Hopkins uniform.
Looking to replace Heuler and Mitsuhashi in the midfield are Ramadane, senior Nigel Joseph and sophomores John Aguilar and Drew Collins. The key returner in the Hopkins midfield is senior Ian Heinrich, an All-Conference honorable mention last season and three-year starter. Joining the returners in the midfield will be freshmen Hayden Helm, Cole Rosenberger and Max Song, all of whom could be contributors in the middle of the pitch. Freshmen Nick Covone and Sebastian Salathe could join the young core of forwards that the Jays have.
Perhaps the largest question looming for the Jays is who will play in between the posts at Homewood field this season. Matt Paris and Nick Cerrone, both of whom saw time in their four seasons at Hopkins, have graduated.
Junior Michael O’Connor, who is the only returner, saw no time in 2014, his first season with the Jays. Junior Bryan See joins the Jays as a transfer from U.C. Irvine, a D-I national powerhouse. Freshman Jeremy Ratliff joins the two upperclassmen to round out the battle for the starting goalkeeper.
The Jays kick off conference play on Sept. 19 against Haverford, but first, they will play six conference tune-ups.
The Jays are certainly optimistic about their chances for this upcoming season.
“With such an experienced defensive line we have a deep camaraderie and connection that many other teams may not have,” Park said. “Our Centennial Conference opponents are always exceptional, but we’re looking forward to whatever they can throw at us. Kenny Destefano (senior-forward) is always a dominating presence on the forward line. He scores crucial goals for us, and I know he’ll continue that throughout this season.
“What’s more important though is that we have such a depth of talent on the team that many players will end up making a difference on offense,” he continued. “Positive vibes all around. We started off pre-season strong with a 2-1 scrimmage win over Mary Washington so we’re looking to build off that.”