After finishing second in the Atlantic Ten Conference last season, midfielders J.T. Noone and Tyler Witmer look to defy sixth-place predictions.
Despite posting the second-best record in the Atlantic Ten Conference last year, senior midfielder J.T. Noone and the men’s soccer team enter the 2009 season facing skepticism from the rest of the league.
In a recent poll of A-10 coaches, the Owls were predicted to finish sixth in the conference, with the Dayton Flyers pegged to repeat as champions.
The Owls return one of the best one-two punches in the conference in the form of Noone and sophomore midfielder Tyler Witmer. The duo accounted for 43 points last year, nearly half of the Owls’ total offense.
“I talked to Tyler and J.T. before the season, and I told them that it’s very important that they repeat what they did last year,” coach Dave MacWilliams said. “Any drop-off from that, and it’s going to hurt us. For us to be successful, those two have to constantly be on the scoresheet.”
Noone, who tied Temple’s all-time assist record in Friday’s game against Villanova, enters the season with an abundance of hype surrounding him. Following a season in which he scored seven goals to go along with 12 assists, Noone was named to the First-Team All A-10 squad, along with earning a selection to the 2008 National Soccer Coaches Association of America Second-Team All-America squad. In July, College Soccer News named Noone to its preseason Second-Team All-American squad.
Repeating that success will not be easy for Noone, as opposing teams are likely to game-plan around him, MacWilliams said.
“J.T. is going to be man-marked, double-teamed,” MacWilliams said. “If they are double-teaming him, it means somebody else is open. It’s something we have to work on and something J.T.’s going to have to expect game after game.”
Noone wasn’t the only Owl to receive accolades last year, as Witmer found himself on both the Second-Team A-10 and First-Team All-Freshman squads following the season. By scoring eight goals, good for fifth in the conference, Witmer provided a consistent scoring threat for Noone to look for.
“He’s a scorer, a natural finisher,” Noone said. “He’s going to score a lot of goals this year, and that’s exactly what we need.”
Senior midfielder Martin Dell’Arciprete and junior midfielders Jared Harris and Max Kinderwater also expect to play crucial roles in the Cherry and White’s offense this year.
In back, senior defender Brant Hovington was expected to return after starting 17 games last year before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, leaving a huge hole in a defense that was already depleted from the graduation of James Suevo. Freshman defender Billy Kappock stepped up to help fill Hovington’s role, but it’s going to take a group effort, MacWilliams said.
“Billy’s still young. He’s going to learn. He’s going to get better as the year goes on,” MacWilliams said. “We also have Bryan Keller, who can also come in. Both Chas Chupein and Billy have done a pretty good job so far.”
In the net, senior goalkeeper Bret Mollon returns after a successful debut season for the Owls. Mollon, who originally played for Oakland University, started every game last year, finishing with a 10-5-4 record, while posting a Temple season record nine shutouts.
The Cherry and White are used to playing the role of underdogs, as last year was the first year the team made the A-10 tournament since 2004. By returning eight of 11 starters from last year’s squad, the Owls said they feel they have the experience and depth to make another run.
“We’re capable of [competing for a title],” MacWilliams said. “It all comes down to how we mesh. If we can do that, then I’m confident we can compete.”
“We’re returning a lot of guys this year, and a lot of us are still hungry,” Noone added. “We have some unfinished business to take care of. I know I do.”
After starting the season 2-0-1, following a victory over Villanova and a tie with Lafayette, the Owls look to build on that record this weekend in the Stihl Soccer Classic in Norfolk, Va.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.