By James Greene
Special to GoHolyCross.com
There is a new voice at the helm of the Holy Cross men's soccer program. Ted Priestly enters his first year as head coach following 12 seasons at UMass-Lowell, where he accumulated an overall record of 131-76-28. He posted a winning record in each of the last 10 years, and led the River Hawks to the NCAA Tournament four times, including a pair of appearances in the national quarterfinals. Priestly inherits a program that has qualified for the Patriot League Tournament in each of the last two years, and advanced to the conference championship last season.
"Holy Cross is an exciting place to be right now," Priestly said. "Our guys are hungry and expect to win every game. That is a testament to their character and to the tradition of Holy Cross soccer. The players have embraced the new philosophy, and we are all aiming for the same goals."
While the voice at the helm is new, the team boasts experience, returning 22 letterwinners and seven starters from last year's squad. Five seniors graduated, and Priestly will look for leadership from the team's core. Goaltender Thomas Booth, forward Kyle Miller, and defender Peter Siclari are this season's tri-captains who look to lead the team to the Patriot League championship and the NCAA Tournament.
"Their job is to score goals and create chances," Priestly said of what he expects of his attackers. "We also want them to defend from the front. We will have a balanced approach. We need to work hard to keep the ball, be creative and attack, but we also need to be focused when defending."
Miller will be looked upon to continue providing offense for the Crusaders. The junior tri-captain and 2007 Patriot League Rookie of the Year started all 19 contests last season and led the team with nine goals and 18 points. Three of his tallies were game-winners, and he was named Patriot League Player of the Week twice. He has 16 career goals and 34 points in two years at Holy Cross. "He had a positive spring," Priestly said. "He's a classic target player who can score with either foot. He is outstanding in the air and eager tomprove."
Tony Rosales enters his sophomore season after making 16 appearances and three starts in 2008. Incoming freshman Shane Regan, who is skilled at both attacker and in the midfield, will compete for playing time as well.
Andreas Andrews provided leadership, stability and scoring from the midfield last season. His departure opens the door for others to compete for minutes. Junior Jon Werth made 17 starts last season and finished tied for second on the team in scoring with seven points. Two others who look to return to prominent roles in the midfield are junior Philippe Candido, who started 17 games last season, and sophomore Jordan Michael, who earned 18 starts in 2008. They will be joined by an experienced crew that includes seniors Ryan O'Hanlon (11 games played) and Franco Bacigalupo (13 games played), junior Matt Beckley (16 games played, five starts last season) and sophomore and Joey Curran (14 games played). Freshman Pat McCann and Steven Stefanak, along with Regan, could also see minutes in the midfield.
There's also the chance players will move around in their positions this season. "We will run whatever formation maximizes our strengths," Priestly said.
With the graduation of Jerry Dickinson, the 2008 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and the 2009 Crusader of the Year, along Kregory Hefner and Alejandro Melean, there will be an open competition in camp. "That was an outstanding defensive block," Priestly said of the four graduated Crusaders. "Now there is an opportunity for new people to step into the position."
Among those players who figure to compete for a starting position is sophomore Joe Whittaker, whom Priestly called the most improved player of the spring. "Joe is such a tremendous ball-winner, he was a natural fit in the heart of our defense," he said.
Priestly also saw improvement in Tom Wilhelm, who looks to move from the midfield to a starting spot on defense. He saw action in 19 games last season, starting 16 of them, and tallied his first career goal. Junior Tom Van Grinsven, who started all 19 games in 2008, should also play a prominent role. The competition for minutes and starts figures to be fierce, with seniors Siclari and Peter Whooley, juniors Paul Tearson, Henry Hulick and James Imbriani, and sophomores Ryan Hall and Vincent Garofalo all looking to jockey for position during preseason camp. Incoming freshman Tom Stroh and Stefanak could also earn playing time.
The competition is something Priestly likes. "We want at least two guys competing for each spot," he said. He also is not fazed by the youth on the back line or anywhere on the team. "The best 11 will play, regardless of age or where they come from," he said.
Booth will provide the last line of defense for Holy Cross, as he enjoyed a breakout season last year. He started all 19 games for the Crusaders, compiling a 9-5-5 record, making a career-high 76 saves and allowing only 16 goals, second best in school history. He finished the year ranked 33rd in the nation in goals-against average (0.79) and save percentage (.826), and also notched a career-best seven shutouts. He was named second team All-Patriot League.
"He played well this spring and loves to work and train," Priestly said of Booth. "Goalkeeper is a leadership position, and we are fortunate that in addition to technical and tactical ability, each of our goalkeepers shows leadership in the way that they play the game."
Senior David LeBar looks to push Booth for minutes this season, while freshmen Evan Polanik and Jonah Poster will also have the opportunity to earn playing time.
Following two exhibition matches, Holy Cross opens the regular season on the road against Providence (Sept. 5) before its home opener with Bryant (Sept. 8). The Crusaders hit the road for two contests at Central Connecticut (Sept. 12) and Northeastern (Sept. 15) before coming home for a game against Sacred Heart (Sept. 19). After a road trip to Boston University (Sept. 23), Holy Cross returns home to open its Patriot League schedule against Lafayette (Sept. 26). The Crusaders wrap up the month by playing host to Albany (Sept. 29).
Holy Cross begins October by entertaining Colgate (Oct. 3), then visits Harvard (Oct. 7) and Bucknell (Oct. 10) before returning home to face Lehigh (Oct. 17) and Boston College (Oct. 21). A road game at Navy is next (Oct. 25), followed by American at home (Oct. 31) and the regular season finale at Army (Nov. 7).
The Patriot League Tournament is set for Nov. 13 and 15 on the campus of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the regular season standings qualify for the tournament.
Priestly likes the schedule and invites the challenges it will bring. "It reveals our expectations of the program," he said. "We expect to be in a position to compete for the Patriot League title every year."