In its last game of the 2010 season, the Cal Poly men’s soccer team was poised to upset UC Santa Barbara in the Big West semifinals with a 1-0 lead and less than eight minutes remaining.
But a late UC Santa Barbara goal robbed the Mustangs of their first Big West Championship appearance and dealt them their third consecutive overtime loss in the postseason.
Now, seven months after the abrupt end to their season, the team is back in the national spotlight after being named one of Goal.com’s 11 Programs to Watch in 2011.
Head coach Paul Holocher said he is excited for what he knows is an improved Cal Poly soccer squad to take the field in September.
“I feel we will be stronger next fall given all that we have learned over the last two years and the maturing of the players and our system of play,” Holocher said. “We have added some excellent players to an already good team.”
Cal Poly has brought six new freshmen on board, including forward Keegan Smith, winger Chase Minter, midfielders Michael Bernardi and Matt LaGrassa, goalkeeper Chase Hauser and forward Steve Palacios. CollegeSoccerNews.com gave the Mustangs four out of five stars for their new recruiting class.
In their review of the team, Goal.com praised the team for “landing prized recruit Steve Palacios, a member of the United State U-18 national team pool.” Palacios was ranked No. 76 in the nation and No. 5 in Southern California in the 18 and under group by TopDrawerSoccer.com
The Mustangs also added UCLA transfer Dakota Collins and Saint Louis University transfer Benny Estes in the offseason.
Holocher said with one of the largest group of seniors the team has had in years, experience will help lead Cal Poly to success.
“We have an excellent group of seniors,” Holocher said. “These guys got a taste of the NCAA playoffs when we achieved this in 2008, but having missed that call the last two years, I know they are hungry to get back there.”
Cal Poly has seven seniors taking the field in the fall.
Last season, the Mustangs had only seniors David Zamora and Junior Burgos leave the team. Zamora tied Cal Poly’s all time scoring record with 25 goals and is first with 64 points and 78 appearances. After graduation, Burgos was selected by Toronto FC in the MLS SuperDraft.
But, seven other Mustangs recorded goals last season. Chris Gaschen and Tim White scored three, and Jake Hustedt, Cameron Walters and Chris Bernardi scored two.
Senior Wes Feigner said between an ever-growing team chemistry and the number of weapons the team has, each player will continue to be a major threat on the field.
“Last year, we had a lot of different guys scoring in different games,” Feigner said. “I think we’re going to get production from a lot of people. The chemistry on the team is the best I’ve ever seen it. With all the seniors on the team you’ve got a lot of guys who have been playing with each other for a while now.”
Senior fullback Patrick Sigler, who remained on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s top 100 ranking list throughout last season, said if the team can find success on the road it would be unstoppable.
“We need to win more games on the road,” Sigler said. “We consider ourselves one of the hardest teams to beat at home, but winning at UC Irvine and at Santa Barbara will be a challenge. But I think we can do it. I think with the team we have now, we’re more than capable of winning the Big West.”
In their 2010 campaign, the Mustangs only lost one game at home with a 4-1 loss to Loyola Marymount, while only winning three of nine games on the road.
The Mustangs’ biggest road block has been UC Santa Barbara, which has beaten Cal Poly in Harder Stadium for the last 12 years. It was there that Cal Poly’s 2010 season ended.
However, Holocher said the new squad will be even better than last season and will be a greater force to reckon with in the Big West.
“They want to win the Big West Championship for Cal Poly and make some history for this school in the process,” Holocher said. “We know we have to work hard and be fully committed to achieving this goal. Our seniors-to-be have given us a lot of motivation and inspiration and we will be playing each match with massive passion next fall.”