YORK, Pa. – Building what has become nearly a tradition, the York College men's soccer program has established and maintained a level of excellence over the past six seasons. Beginning with the 2005 campaign, the Spartans have won four of the previous six Capital Athletic Conference Tournament Championships (including the 2009 and 2010 titles), reached the NCAA Tournament in six straight seasons, and reached as high as #2 in the national poll during that time. But the question is however; will the 2011 squad stack up to those lofty standards set by previous Spartan teams?
"This is a tremendous group of young men," Spartan head coach Mark Ludwig said, as he enters his 13th season at the helm of the York program. "I believe that they will work hard and strive to get better every single day. Obviously, we have goals that we would like to attain during the year but our top goal, what we strive for each season, is to simply get better every day. If we do that, I think we will have the opportunity to do some good things this season."
Among those tremendous young men are four Capital Athletic Conference honorees from a season ago as Mike Gill, Jesse Derksen, Antonio Bua, and Matt Yackel headline a strong group of returners. Gill, a 2010 first-team All-CAC and second-team NSCAA All-Region performer, enters his senior year as a highly experienced Spartan who can man a number of positions and excel throughout the park. Derksen begins his junior campaign after a stellar 2010, which saw the athletically gifted goalkeeper join Gill on the first-team league and second-team regional squads after not surrendering a goal in conference play during the eight-game slate. Bua, a sophomore in 2010, was a second-team All-CAC choice a year ago and possesses as much raw ability as anyone in the region. Yackel was the 2010 CAC Rookie of the Year as York's right back and will look to build upon his success from his freshman season.
"Each of these four guys did a great job for us last year," Ludwig said. "We are definitely expecting them to step up this season however, and take on an even greater role within our team."
One of the luxuries, and yet one of the difficulties, that Ludwig has this season is the wealth of players that can perform at a high level at multiple positions on the field. Beginning with Gill and filtering down to some of the Spartans' younger players, the Green and White have versatile student-athletes throughout the roster.
"We are still figuring out where everyone fits in best in our lineup," Ludwig commented. "But with that said, our guys are simply soccer players who do good things wherever they play. And that can prove to be a great asset."
A number of players fit in well with the Spartan attack including both Bua and possibly Gill. Sophomore Chris Weaver enters the year after a solid offseason in the gym while fellow sophomore Taylor Brummitt, who has looked solid in training, returns to the Spartan squad and should be exceptionally hungry after having to take off the 2010 campaign.
York will also look to a crew of newcomers to provide some offensive firepower as Austin Johnson, Will Duddleson, Dan Virbickis, and Joey Penn each join the Spartans for the 2011 season. Johnson transfers in from Division I LaSalle where he proved an impact player for the Explorers, having twice been named the A-10 Rookie of the Week in 2009. Both Duddleson and Virbickis add tremendous physical attributes to the Spartan attack as Duddleson stands 6'3" and Virbickis 6'2" and will each look to become dangerous attackers in the final third. Penn, another Spartan rookie, will look to translate his solid prep success into success at the collegiate level.
"Being dangerous and finishing in the attacking third is going to be a real key for us this season," Ludwig said. "I believe that we have excellent pieces in place it is just a matter of coming together and working for each other."
Through the midfield, the Green and White have numerous options. Justin Facer, Pablo Martinez, Cody Pearson, Michael Andrei, Jake Hower, and Jimmy Garrison return to the squad and will look to put on solid performances throughout the year. Facer had a very strong 2010 campaign and has the ability to be one of the CAC's best flank players. Martinez, a sophomore, put in a solid offseason to prepare his body for the rigors of college play and should be a key cog in York's midfield. Pearson, after playing as York's left back last season, moves into the midfield where Ludwig hopes he will be able to better utilize his excellent ability to strike a ball. Andrei, Hower, and Garrison will each look to vie for minutes and provide quality depth.
The Spartans also welcome back Trey Good and Eric Mackin to the lineup as each missed the 2010 campaign. Good is a strong student-athlete, who, as many of his teammates, can perform well at a number of positions. Mackin put together a quality 2009 season and will look to quickly shake off the rust and become a solid performer in 2011.
"We like the way our midfield is shaping up," Ludwig said. "Most likely we have players cycling in and out of there throughout the season and especially early on as we figure out the best combinations. However, the quality players we have here is unmistakable and each brings something positive to the table."
Defensively, the Spartans have been a quality squad throughout the previous several seasons, and will once again look to be one of Division III's most stingy units. Highlighted by Yackel, Matt DeLong and Aaron Beale will also look for roles in the Spartan First XI. DeLong enters his junior year with an opportunity to win a starting role out wide while Beale begins year number two with the Green and White looking to man one of York's two center back roles. Sophomore Mike Kane brings experienced depth and should see increased minutes in his second campaign.
Steven LeVine, Justin Kaiser, and Yawo Baah join the Green and White for the 2011 season as each looks to provide the defense with quality work. LeVine transfers in from Towson University after putting together a solid career for the Division I Tigers. LeVine's high-quality experience and ability should allow him to garner a starting center back role at the beginning of the season. Kaiser and Baah will both look to provide solid depth and gain as much experience as possible this year.
"We have always wanted defense to be a hallmark of our program," Ludwig said. "Even though this will be a new group playing together, I believe they will be able to mesh well and do exactly what we need them to do – prevent dangerous chances."
York's goalkeepers enter the year as a strong point for the squad. Derksen returns after putting together a simply outstanding junior season for the Green and White. The All-CAC and All-Region netminder, who posted a 0.46 goals against average as he played in over 1,950 minutes between the pipes in 2010, will look for yet another stellar season in 2011. Ethan Kavanagh, a senior Spartan goalkeeper, has been playing well throughout the preseason and will look to make a case for the top spot in net. A hulking physical presence, Kavanagh stands 6'5" tall and weighs a solid 220 and yet remains agile around the goal. Rookies Steve Handy and Daniel Erk embark on their Spartan careers this season. Handy possesses tremendous athletic ability and will look to develop as a goalkeeper throughout the year while Erk will look to gain experience and provide depth as a freshman.
"Our goalkeeping unit could be a real strength of our team this season," Ludwig said. "Our goalkeepers can not only make excellent saves but also direct and organize our defense, which ultimately prevents many dangerous opportunities."
Despite having such talent at the ready, Ludwig understands that it will once again be a tough road ahead. As has become standard for his Spartans, Ludwig has put together a very strong schedule – one that includes 2010 NCAA Division III National Champion Messiah as well as NCAA Tournament participants Christopher Newport and Johns Hopkins.
"We want this to be another one of those hallmarks of our program," Ludwig said. "Without a doubt, we want to play top teams and to test ourselves against the best."
And York will certainly get that opportunity early in the season. The Spartans begin their 2011 slate at the CNU Tournament, which takes place on September 2 and 3, as they face a traditionally strong Virginia Wesleyan team before taking on host Christopher Newport on Saturday night. The Spartans open up at home on Tuesday, September 6, as they host a stubborn Susquehanna squad a Graham Field in a 4:00 pm tilt.
"We believe this could be an exciting season for us," Ludwig concluded. "We all need to do our part for the team and we all need to get better everyday. If we do that, I think we can put together a successful 2011."
Mike Gill photo courtesy of Zach Clabaugh - www.sharpedgefoto.com