Kicking Into High Gear

With veteran players filling out much of  the fall 2010 roster, the Men’s Soccer team at the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz is looking to develop the mental and physical toughness they feel they need to make the SUNYAC playoffs.

The only starter that the Hawks lost to graduation in 2009 was co-captain and three-time MVP Anton Shipman. However, three first-year players now fill out the back line. The newcomers will play alongside returning players on both offense and defense, some who have been together for the past two or three years.

Head Coach Eric Watson said the veterans have stepped up and performed since the season began, with the new members showing promise.

“We have a lot of talent top to bottom,” he said. “They are also a highly motivated group.”

The team came out on top in their season opener, beating King’s College by a score four goals. During the 5-1 victory, forwards Michael Ackerman and David Gardiner had a goal and an assist, and third- year Jimmy Altadonna also scored in transition with less than 10 minutes to play.

In their next non-conference matchup at the start of the season, the Hawks overcame Vassar College thanks to midfielder Tommy Garafola’s two goals. The cross-river rivals have fallen to the Hawks in six of their last seven meetings.

Ackerman, who scored his first goal as a Hawk in the season opener, said the team got off to a good start.

“Our confidence was high after that  win,” he said. “We can outplay any team that we have played so far.”

However, the squad recently suffered defeats against fourth ranked Williams College and No. 15 Stevens Institute of Technology in non-conference matchups.

Watson said that an important challenge for this year’s group will be to come out on top in games against conference rivals. Last year, the Men’s Soccer team lost four games in conference in spite of the fact that they began their season with a 4-1-1 record.

The head coach feels that by stepping up their play in big-game situations, the team can push through to the SUNYAC playoffs slated for the end of October.

“We believe we can do it, but we just haven’t,” Watson said. “We have to find a way to get over the conference games.”

The Hawks will begin conference competition against competitors in Oneonta, Cortland, Plattsburgh and elsewhere. This season the Hawks will face 11 teams who had records above .500 last year. In spite of the competition that lies ahead, Watson said the squad’s ultimate goal is to win a national championship.

“We aren’t here for moral victories,” he said.

The team will take on SUNY Oneonta on Saturday, Sept. 16 at home. According to Gardiner, the team’s chemistry and experience will help them excel in all games moving forward.

“In comparison to other teams that I have been on, this team is more like a family,” he said. “This year we have a mature squad and we hope to use our experience to our advantage.”