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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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Women’s soccer preview

Season Preview
Men’s soccer season a tale of two mustaches

Eric Williams and Mike Williams have a contest going this season.

While the rest of their Muhlenberg soccer teammates showed up to Tuesday’s team picture clean-shaven, the two seniors (no relation) sported full beards that had been growing since the beginning of camp.

And when the season begins against Marywood at 5 p.m. Saturday at Varsity Field, those beards will become mustaches. Whoever can go the longest without shaving their mustache will be declared the king of Mule mustaches.

Mike Williams
Mike Williams finished second on the team with four assists in 2009.
It is a contest that has been more than three years in the making, ever since the two visited Muhlenberg on a recruiting visit when they were both high school seniors.

They then became roommates during their freshmen season and have lived together since. And now, as they embark on their final season donning the red and gray, the reality of senior year is setting in.

“It’s surreal,” Eric Williams said of his upcoming senior season. “It’s very bittersweet because this is my last year playing competitive soccer, but at the same time it’s exciting because we’ve got a really good group and I think we can do a lot of good things this year.”

Chief among them, qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Eric Williams
Eric Williams begins the 2010 season fully healthy after missing half of last season with an injury.

This year’s senior class is the only current group of Mules that has experienced the national tournament. When those seniors first set foot on campus, Muhlenberg had qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times in five seasons.

But after coming up short in 2007 and being upset in the semifinals of last fall’s Centennial Conference tournament after winning the regular-season crown, the mission for this year is simple; do not let the season end prematurely.

Both Eric and Mike Williams agree the 2010 squad has the talent, including junior first-team All-America midfielder Cody Antonini and senior All-Centennial Conference goalkeeper Jason Daniels , to make that goal a reality.

But what separates this year’s group from prior teams is a passionate desire to go along with that skill.

“In the past we always had talent but we just expected to do well,” Mike Williams said. “But this year we’re not expecting to win, everybody is prepared to put in the work that it takes to win.”

“We don’t say ‘Win’ when we break our huddles, we don’t say ‘Team,’” Eric Williams added. “We say ‘Work hard’ every time we break the huddle. And we’re ready to get out there and make life hard for every team we play.”

Even with top offensive threats like reigning conference player of the year Antonini (12 goals, 2 assists in 2009), senior forward Tom Reilly (4 goals, 3 assists), Mike Williams (1 goal, 4 assists) and sophomore Danny Way (2 goals) returning to lead the attack, the Mules’ will once again rely on a stifling defense to set the tone for the season.

Daniels, senior captain Matt Cecconi and sophomore Kyle Plifka form the nucleus for a back line that allowed 14 goals in 17 games last season. Add Eric Williams, who shifts from forward to his natural position at center back, to that mix and the result is a group that wants to play physical and “crunch tackles,” as Williams said.

An extra dimension to this year’s team is an influx of younger players with enough ability to push the upperclassmen.

Mike Williams pointed to junior midfielders Tim Leischner, Josh Luginbuhl, Steve Giannacio, Daniel Savaria and Conor Choi as players who have realized the need to transition from being role players to regular contributors for the Mules.

Matt Cecconi
Cecconi leads all active Mules with 37 career starts.
He also mentioned the sophomore class, including Way and Kenn Andersen up front, along with Plifka, Nate Squire and Jon Majoros on defense, as one that should have a lot of success during the next three seasons.

But the biggest surprise, Williams said, was this year’s group of freshmen. He said he was impressed with how prepared the rookies were when they showed up to camp, and added that they have bought into the concept of treating every practice as if it was a championship game.

“Everybody came to camp fit, and even with a short camp, everybody’s been very cohesive,” Mike Williams said. “This team genuinely gets along really well, there’s a lot of good chemistry.”

Case in point, the mustache contest. The object is to go the entire season without shaving. And if everything goes as Eric Williams has planned, that will not be for more than three months.

But of course if Muhlenberg is still playing into late November or early December, deep into the NCAA Tournament, neither Williams will be bothered much by a little, all be it long, facial hair.

“We can win the regular season, like we did last year, but all it’s going to get us is a seed [in the conference tournament],” Eric Williams said. “We want to win the conference so we know we will get back to the NCAA Tournament.

“And that would be a dream come true.”

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