Saint Leo, Fla. (August 22, 2006) - After an historic campaign in 2005, which saw the Saint Leo University men's soccer team claim the first Sunshine State Conference Championship in SLU Athletics history, head coach Joel Harrison's side has the difficult task of attempting to match that success in 2006. The quest to repeat begins Thursday, August 24 with a home match against Briar Cliff University at University Field (7:00 p.m.).
Harrison's team was picked second in the pre-season SSC poll and enters the 2006 season as the No. 10 ranked team in the nation according to the pre-season NSCAA/adidas Top-25 poll. In both cases, the Lions find themselves behind Lynn University who has ended the SLU men's soccer season in each of the last three years.
Saint Leo's men will face three of the pre-season top-25 teams in 2006, including key conference fixtures against No. 3 Lynn and No. 25 Rollins College, the only two sides to defeat the Lions a year ago. SLU will travel to Pensacola, Fla. to face the University of West Florida, while also making the trek to Montevallo, Ala. to face No. 18 University of Montevallo in key south region matches.
Coach Harrison, who was the 2005 SSC Coach of the Year and enters his third season in charge of the SLU men's soccer program, stresses the importance of taking each game as it comes, and focusing on each individual opponent.
"As the old cliché goes, we want to take it one game at a time," Harrison said. "Our goal is to win every time we step on the field, so our general theme is to focus on our performance and the winning and losing will take care of itself. We don't look at rankings, whether it's us or anyone else, because in our conference anyone can beat anyone else on any given day. When it comes to our games against Division II opponents, those are the most important games to win and put ourselves in a position to reach the NCAA Tournament."
Despite the success of last year's team, Harrison is quick to point out that the 2006 edition of the SLU men's soccer team will have a different look after the departure of five starters from last season's championship-winning team. However, the team will see the return of 2004 SSC Freshman of the Year Brandon Whitsett (So., Palm Harbor, Fla.) who missed out on the entire 2005 campaign through injury.
Also returning is 2005 SSC double-award winner and Second Team All-American Asmir Pervan (Sr., Simmern, Germany) who claimed the conference Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year awards after scoring 22 goals and adding seven assists for 51 points last year. In addition, 2005 SSC Freshman of the Year Eusebio Montoya (So., Smithfield, N.C.) returns, after leading the team with nine assists, and ranking second in goals (9) and points (27) in 2005. Pervan was First Team All-Sunshine State Conference and Montoya was Second Team All-SSC in 2005.
"Having Asmir and Eusebio back, plus the return of Brandon Whitsett, means that we have a lot of talent and goal-scoring ability in our team," Harrison said. "We also have Tommy Poston and Corey Ahern returning to the team along with Luis Quintero and Ryo Tsuda so I feel that we have plenty going forward and we should be able to score some goals."
The Lions also have some new faces who will add depth to the side and will challenge for significant playing time, according to Harrison. Among these newcomers is junior transfer Nick Rasek (Woking, England), freshman midfielder Daniel Asher (Silver Spring, Md.) and Brazilian freshman Leonardo Nogueira (Sao Paulo, Brazil).
After just three years in charge, Harrison has turned SLU into a national contender and a force within the conference. In 2006 he will have the task of trying to have his side repeat as conference champions and take the next step nationally, but he'll take it one game at a time.