Lions believe healthy squad can end NEWMAC winless streak

by Matt Case / Beacon Staff • September 15, 2016

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Members of the Mens Soccer team celebrate a goal.
Members of the Mens Soccer team celebrate a goal.

A sense of urgency set in for the seniors of Emerson’s men’s soccer team as their campaign for a conference win continues with the opening of the 2016 season.

“We literally couldn’t be closer,” senior captain Duncan Bochicchio said. “Emergency is a good word.”

Citing close games and missed opportunities, Bochicchio, a forward, said he is determined to get his squad their first victory within the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, or NEWMAC, an organization they moved to in 2013.

Since joining, the Lions are 0-20-1.

“No one trained as hard as we did last spring, no one trained as hard as we did over the summer,” Bochicchio said. “I think we’re going to be more prepared because of it.”

The common theme of last year for the Lions, who finished 5-13 overall, was injuries. Multiple ACL tears and other miscellaneous wounds benched as many as six of their original 11 starters  midway through the season. But through the first three games of their current season Emerson has stayed healthy, remaining sprain, tear, and fracture free.

“I think we all agree the nature of those injuries were pretty unlucky,” second-year head coach Javier Mejia said, specifically noting a broken collarbone suffered by a player who was biking home from practice. “There wasn’t a great deal we could do about those.”

Mostly attributing the injuries to bad fortune, Mejia and his team did mention new strategies implemented by the captains for averting injuries, including longer cool-downs and stretches after practices and games.

“As far as injuries from overtraining or not training enough over the summer, those have been relatively avoided,” Mejia said.

Another issue of the past, according to Mejia, has been a lack of depth on the sidelines. More than just players on the disabled list, he said the talent of his replacement starters and his reserves has been weaker than what he’s seen this season.

“In previous years, we’ve always had a very strong 11-15 [players],” Mejia said. “But now I certainly feel like we could go 18, 19, 20, and that means a great deal.”

In Mejia’s first year, the Lions sported a 25-man squad. That number has increased to 28 in 2016, with over half of the roster comprised of underclassmen.

Bochicchio pointed out the early performances of freshmen Matthew Hanks, Gavin Faucette, and Parker Hughes, who have been in the starting lineup for Emerson’s opening matches.

“We’ve already had four or five freshmen who are getting solid minutes,” Bochicchio, a journalism major, said. “We pretty much already know who will be starting and who is right on the cusp of being there.”

Almost always, when a new season begins, seniors must be replaced. After Graduating nine members a year ago, the Lions are looking to fill the shoes of top goal scorer Dan Knight, and 2015 NEWMAC saves leader Carter Bowers.

Taking over in net, is junior Lucas Fischer, who started six games last season while Bowers was dealing with injury and helping out on the front lines. Fischer recorded 30 saves, 3 goals against, and obtained a 3-1 record.  

Mejia told The Beacon in last year’s season wrap-up that Fischer was going to be the starter come this fall, and said in an interview last week that he isn’t at all nervous about his new full-time goalkeeper position.

“Not in the slightest. We went through the season without those influential players, we got adjusted to not having them there. We had three more fantastic keepers that all might be better than any other keeper in the conference. That’s one area I have absolutely no concern about.”

Fischer said Bowers acted like a mentor to him, and prepared him for the new role.

“I miss having him now because he was a great competitor in training and that’s what you want to do, just push each other to get better and you’re only helping your team that way,” Fischer, a marketing communication major, said. “But I’m ready, 100 percent.”

The primary goal is to win their first NEWMAC contest and win more games overall than last year, Mejia said. Even so, the former Emerson soccer player hasn’t directly communicated that objective to his team, and there’s a strategy behind it.

“My personal thinking on that is it can be dangerous,” he said. “If you set a particular goal, and you don’t reach it, sometimes the season can come across as a failure even though you’ve done other things well.”

The Lions lost their first two matches of this season. Four first half goals propelled Emmanuel College to a clean sheet victory, and after Bochicchio opened up the scoring in the 42nd minute  against Curry College, the contest was equalized 38 seconds later and eventually taken by the Colonels in overtime, 2-1. Emerson did earn its first victory this past Saturday with a 3-1 score over Salem State University. Bochicchio tallied twice.   

Emerson outshot all three of their competitors—a feat they accomplished only three times last year—and held each opponent to single-digit shots, which didn’t happen once in 2015.

Mejia is focusing on the positives.

“If you just go by the numbers, there’s a clear improvement.” Mejia said. “And even though they were losses, which happens incredibly often in this sport where the team with more shots, more possession, doesn’t end up winning, there is still optimism despite those previous results.”

The men open up conference action Saturday against Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ranked 13th in the nation. But the matchups that senior captain Elias Romanos is looking toward are against United States Coast Guard Academy on Oct. 8, and Clark University on Oct. 22.

Coast Guard (5-12-1, 2-4-1 last season) defeated Emerson 3-0, and Clark (6-10-1, 1-6) won 3-2  for their only NEWMAC victory in 2015 .

Romanos, a midfielder, joined the Lions when they entered their new conference in 2013. He has experienced the heartache of a winless NEWMAC record more often than anyone, and said he also feels that sense of urgency.  

“We have more than enough quality on the team to win a few conference games,” Romanos, a political communication major, said. “I thought that last year, I think that every year because we’ve always had the quality to do it. It just has to happen this year.”

Mejia’s secret weapon? The unexpected. He said the other conference programs continue to ignore the Lions as a threat, and he hopes to take advantage.

“They still see us as the bottom of the conference and why wouldn’t they? The record shows that,” he said. “That’s perfectly fine for me -- you want that element of surprise.”

Emerson (1-2, 0-0) takes on Lesley University (1-3, 0-0), this evening at 8 p.m., in Cambridge.