TOP 5 COUNTDOWN: #3 - 2006 Men's Soccer
EDITORS NOTE: This is the third in a five part series of the top teams from the past decade in York College Spartan Athletics. Today we look at the 2006 York College men's soccer team that won the Capital Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships before advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight.
The number three team on our countdown features a squad loaded with talent that did not lose a single match the entire season. The 2006 York College men's soccer squad entered the season loaded with quality talent, drive, experience, and a brand new facility as the Grumbacher Sport & Fitness Center had just opened the previous Spring. The year prior, the Green and White had a record-setting campaign posting an 18-2-3 mark, capturing the program's second overall Capital Athletic Conference Tournament championship and advanced to the second round in York's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. And that was simply a precursor for the 2006 squad.
"I would say that going into the '06 season; it was a change for a lot of the returners because we as a team had high expectations," former Spartan All-American Chris Ports said. "We had just made the NCAA tournament for the first time in our program's history in 2005 and we were defending our 2005 Capital Athletic Conference title. Our first goal was to keep hold of the CAC championship and then we wanted to get back to the NCAA tournament."
The Spartans of 2006 began the season by heading overseas for a team trip to Ireland and England. Staying in downtown Dublin before moving onto visit London later in the international excursion, the Green and White were able to get in some early training, play against some local squads, and, most importantly, bond as a unit during their time overseas.
"The most memorable aspect from that team was the camaraderie that our whole team had," Ports said of the team's bond that grew throughout the season. "We were all very close off the field which led to great chemistry on the field. I'm still very close with a lot of guys from the team."
Once back in the U.S., York's tremendous international experience led to an outstanding start as the Green and White picked up the title at the Joe Prombriant/Christopher Newport University Classic to open the year. York bested Methodist 3-0 in the first game of the season, before topping host CNU the next evening by a 3-1 result. Spreading out their scoring during the opening weekend, six different Spartans netted tallies as Mike Baker, Drew Dutrow, Andrew Wheeler, Kyle McGrath, Charlie Barrett, and Justin Suchoski each found the back of the net.
That 2-0 start led the Green and White into their next match, a date with then-#1 Messiah, a squad which was coming off two-straight NCAA National Championships and would go on to win their third consecutive later in 2006. In Grantham, Pa., the Spartans snagged a 1-1 draw in double overtime, courtesy of a Suchoski 51st minute tally, against the perennial national powerhouse, pointing the York side in the right direction for the remainder of the season.
"We knew we were going to be a good team going into the year," Ports said. "I don't think that we really realized how good we were until we played Messiah College at Messiah in our third game of the season. We played them in 2005 and we lost to them 2-1 in OT. So we wanted to really take it to them, not to mention that they were the defending national champions and the #1 team in the country. We played well and the game was pretty even as far as the run of play was concerned. After the game, we realized that we could compete with anyone in the country and we had a long season ahead of us to prove that this was true."
The Green and White then ripped off 12 consecutive wins, including five overtime victories – pushing their midseason mark to an outstanding 14-0-1 and garnering the nation's #3 ranking. During that span, the Spartans topped several quality squads including CAC foe Salisbury (2-1 OT) and non-conference opponents Lynchburg (1-0) and Arcadia (2-1 OT). York's 1-0 win over Lynchburg on September 13 officially opened the Spartans' new home – Graham Field at the Grumbacher Sport & Fitness Center – as Wheeler's 70th minute tally stood up as the winning score to properly christen York's new digs.
That 12-match winning streak was only halted by a 0-0 double overtime draw against host Gettysburg on October 18. However, the Spartans quickly got back to their winning ways just three days later as Wheeler netted his team-leading 16th goal of the season for a 1-0 triumph over in-conference opponent Mary Washington.
Having posted a flawless 8-0 record in conference play, York went into the CAC Tournament as the league's top seed. The Spartans dispatched Hood 3-0 in the first round before topping Salisbury by a 2-0 result in the semifinals. Those victories set up a date with Mary Washington for the CAC Championship, a match which proved to go York's way. Ports, Travis Williams, and Wheeler each found the back of the net as the Spartans collected their second straight CAC title with a 3-0 victory over the Eagles.
"With our depth, we were able to keep our unbeaten season going even though we had a very difficult schedule," Ports said of handling injuries and difficulties throughout the year. "These tough games really helped us when we got to the postseason because we were already used to playing and doing well against some of the top teams in the country."
Sporting an unbeaten mark at an outstanding 19-0-2, the Spartans – who had already received the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament with their CAC title – received a first-round bye in the national tournament and were chosen to host the second round. Facing visiting Hobart, the Spartans, despite not having played a match in six days, handled the Statesmen 3-0 – courtesy of two goals from Baker and one from Matt Beale – to send the Green and White into the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Now standing a 20-0-2 and carrying the nation's #2 ranking, York was again selected as the host institution for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. In the round of 16 match, the Spartans faced North Carolina Wesleyan and posted what Ports described as "a very memorable 1-0 victory, it was a fantastic game." Wheeler's tally in the 60th minute proved the game-winner as the Green and White advanced into the Elite Eight – yet another program first.
York's triumph over the Battling Bishops set up a date with Wheaton, a squad that had bested Wartburg 2-1 in the afternoon Sweet 16 tilt the day before.
Unfortunately for the Green and White, this Elite Eight match is where their outstanding campaign would come to an abrupt end. The Spartans and Thunder played to a 0-0 draw through 90 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of extra time. That led to a penalty-kick shootout where Wheaton topped the host Spartans 3-2 to advance to the Final Four.
Despite the disappointing end, the Spartans had much to celebrate with their fantastic campaign. York set a program record with 21 victories and went the entire season without a single loss, while also putting together a shutout streak of 855:05 having not surrendered a goal in their last eight matches of the season. The Spartans posted their first NSCAA All-Americans as Wheeler and Ports were both named to the first-team for their efforts, while Wheeler and Evan Scheffey were also selected as d3kicks.com All-Americans. On the regional level, Wheeler, Ports, and goalkeeper Kyle Marks were named first-team choices while Beale received third-team recognition. In the CAC, the Spartans had four first-team selections as Wheeler (who was also chosen as the league's Player of the Year), Ports, Marks, and Scheffey were honored while Beale, Baker, and Ryan Eaton landed on the second-team. Head coach Mark Ludwig received a trio of honors as he was named the CAC Coach of the Year, the NSCAA South Region Coach of the Year, and the NSCAA National Coach of the Year.
Overall, with their undefeated mark with a 21-0-3, CAC regular season and tournament titles, their first Elite Eight appearance, and a bevy of outstanding individual honors, the 2006 men's soccer squad takes the number three team in our top five countdown.