Wildcats return top point scorer and leadership in net
|Senior Tyler Jackson|
DURHAM, N.H. - Fresh off a season in which the Wildcats finished 8-9-0, head coach Rob Thompson has brought in nine new players with the hopes of replacing America East All-Conference players Brendan Hankard, Josh Hareld and Nicola Chicco and return to the America East playoffs after missing out in 2003. The 'Cats made the playoffs in 2001 and 2002. Last year's team was ranked as high as 2nd in New England before five one-goal losses dropped UNH out of the playoff picture.
The 2004 roster features five seniors and just two juniors so the "youth of the Wildcat nation" will have to fill the void left by the nine seniors who graduated from the 2003 club.
"Our expectations do not change year-to-year," said Thompson. "Our team goal is to win every game and capture an America East championship. The expectation does not change simply because the players do."
The Wildcats have no shortage of talented forwards, starting with senior Logan Lee (Racine, Wis.). In 2002, Lee (9 goals, 2 assists) and then teammate Nicola Chicco were the first set of UNH teammates to each record 20 points in a season since Mike Veneto and Ryan Leib in 1994. However, with the early departure of Chicco who went to play in Italy, Lee managed just six points on three goals in 2003. Clearly the 'Cats will need more offensive productivity out of Lee in '04.
Joining Lee in the front line is Matt DeCastro (East Providence, R.I.). DeCastro came into UNH with impressive high school numbers scoring a Rhode Island state record 151 goals and 83 assists. He scored the game-winning goal against Providence in 2002 and missed all of last season as a redshirt.
Sophomore Ross Fishbain (Racine, Wis.) had three points with a goal and an assist in 16 games for the Wildcats. The improving Fishbain will be asked to assume more of an offensive roll with the loss of veteran goal-scorers.
Incoming freshmen Bryan Stewart, who looked impressive while playing with the 'Cats this spring, (Swanzey, N.H.), Kyle Genereux (Harrisville, R.I.) and Adam Marcellus (Malvern, Pa.) have been added to help increase offensive production.
Anchoring the UNH midfield will be senior Tyler Jackson (Amherst, N.H.), junior Eric Masi (York, Maine) and senior Chris Bennice (Scotia, N.Y.). Sophomore Geoff Sanford (Johnson City, N.Y.) should also figure into the mix.
Jackson led the team in scoring with 11 points and was a second team All-America East selection. He was also named to the NSCAA All-New England Third team.
Masi scored two goals, including one in an overtime win over Air Force, last season. However, his scoring numbers were down after an impressive freshman campaign when he was tied for the team lead in assists (5) while being named to the America East All-Rookie Team after totaling 1-5-7.
Bennice, who registered a team-high seven assists from his forward position last year, is expected to slide into the midfield in 2004. Bennice, a transfer from St. John's, played in all 17 games last year.
Sanford played in seven games last season as a back and midfielder. This season he is expected to compete for a starting job in midfield.
Thompson's midfield depth continues as sophomore Jonathan Burg (New Milford, Conn.) and redshirt freshmen Matt Low (Salem, N.H.) and Michael Fairbrother (Woodsville, Va.) should also compete for playing time.
Incoming freshmen Daniel Revis (Putnam Valley, N.Y.) and defensive midfielder Derek Bragg (Downington, Pa.) will all look to crack a deep midfield.
Sophomores Pedro Braz (East Providence, R.I.) and Matt Shump (Durham, N.H.) are expected to lead a youthful backfour this season.
Braz played in five games last season and began to develop into a game-tested back by the end of 2004.
Shump was given the Walter Weiland Award this offseason for being the Most Dedicated Player in 2003. In '03, he played in 16 of 17 games as a midfielder. This season he will most likely see time as a back replacing former standout Brendan Hankard.
Junior Michael Card (Amherst, N.H.) and incoming freshman John Bergqvist (Hollviken, Sweden) are expected to compete for starting spots as well. Card, one of nine Granite-Staters, played in eight games last season including three starts.
Other backs looking to crack the lineup for Coach Thompson are redshirt freshman Nicholas Laliberte (Nashua, N.H.) and incoming freshmen Luke Deciccio (Boylston, Mass.) and Mike Davis (Tigard, Ore.).
Highly regarded recruit Richard Weinrebe (East Providence, R.I.) is likely to miss all of 2004 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL.
New Hampshire could have the most depth at goaltending in the America East conference. The 'Cats have five goalkeepers on the 2004 squad.
Senior Mike Vignola (Hudson, N.H.) emerged as one of the top keepers in America East over the past two years. In 2003, he played in seven games and recorded three shutouts en route to a 4-3 record overall. He posted a .784 save percentage and a 1.4 goals-against average. In 2002, he recorded 10 wins and the lowest goals-against average in the league. He was selected and played for the U-23 regional team this summer.
Sophomore Brian Levey (Pittsburgh, Pa.) put up impressive numbers of his own in 2003. He posted a .766 save percentage and allowed a stingy 1.39 goals-against. He also recorded his first shutout in a 1-0 win over Albany. Expect Levey and Vignola to battle for the top spot in net this year.
Rounding out the goalkeeping corps will be senior Todd Kratt (Hampton, N.H.), redshirt freshman Mike Jenne (Vernon, N.Y.) and incoming freshman Anthony Riccio (Sandown, N.H.).
New Hampshire opens the regular season at home with the 15th annual Nike Fall Soccer Classic. The 'Cats will take on St. Mary's on September 3 then face Holy Cross two days later. Vermont will also be making its 10th-straight appearance.
UNH will then travel to Burlington, Vt. to participate in the UVM Smith Barney Classic. The Wildcats will play Central Connecticut on Sept. 10 and St. Francis (NY) on Sept. 12.
The 'Cats will take on some weighty non-conference opposition, as they will face Massachussetts, Colgate, and intrastate rival Dartmouth College.
Thompson's Wildcats open America East conference play on Sept. 25 as they host rival Maine at Lewis Field.
The six-team America East tournament kicks off November 6, where the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.