SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's soccer team begins the 2011 season with high hopes as the Sea Gulls finished 2010 at 12-3-5 and 6-2-0 in the Capital Athletic Conference, falling in the conference championship game in penalty kicks to York (Pa.) College after a 1-1 tie.
Under the direction of 30th-year head coach Gerry DiBartolo, Salisbury returns 18 letterwinners and two All-CAC players from a year ago, aiming for its eighth conference title. A CAC championship would mean the Gulls' fourth NCAA tournament appearance in the last five seasons.
DiBartolo said the Sea Gulls may not have moved beyond the tie and penalty-kick loss to the Spartans in the championship game and that has driven them into 2011.
"I don't know if they're over it yet, to be honest with you," he said. "It was something that the returning players thought about a lot in the offseason and obviously they have set that as a goal that they would like to win the conference championship this year so that's something that's driven them pretty hard."
The Sea Gulls bring back a talented group of four players up front, including the team's top returning scorer junior Phil Bucheimer with five goals and one assist in 19 matches.
Also back is senior tri-captain Ian Wilson, who added three goals and one assist for seven points last season and has seven goals and 16 points in his career.
"I think that the one young man who has looked phenomenal in camp has been Adrian Tombini," said DiBartolo. "He received numerous playing opportunities as a freshman but last year, his minutes dropped off quite a bit and this offseason he made a commitment to getting fit and improving himself as a soccer player. It has paid off tremendously in terms of his ability on the field this year, so he's had a phenomenal progression.
"Also up front, we've got Trevor Sharpe, who was coming off an injury last year and never was at 100 percent. I think he will be an outstanding goal-scoring threat," he said. Freshman Matt Greene has also showed tremendous potential during the preseason camp.
First Team All-CAC selection Jimmy Mundy is slated to once again patrol the midfield as a junior. One of three players to start all 20 matches a season ago, Mundy has appeared in 40 matches in two years, scoring three goals and seven points.
Another captain, junior Pat Callahan will pair with Mundy. Callahan had a goal and three assists for five points as a sophomore.
"We've got Jimmy Mundy, who was an all-conference player last year for us returning as sort of the anchor and the most consistent player in that midfield," said DiBartolo. "He is tenacious, has quickness with the ball and sees the field very well.
"His partner last year was Pat Callahan, one of our captains, another very good, solid player. He struggled a little bit finishing last year but has looked very good in preseason in terms of his finishing ability."
Sophomore Jake Perry will be called upon to provide some scoring punch as well. He totaled three goals and an assist as a freshman.
DiBartolo is also looking to Morgan Hunt, the lone senior midfielder, to bolster the middle of the field.
"Hunt played some as a wide midfielder and a central midfielder last year. Elliott Crompton got lots of minutes last year as a freshman and we think he's going to have a breakout year this year," said DiBartolo.
Junior Jeremy Moyer as well as a group of freshman are also vying for time in the midfield.
Salisbury ranked 17th in the NCAA defensively in 2010, surrendering just 0.52 goals per game. Much of that defense returns this season.
"We did graduate three of our four starting backs from last year's team," said DiBartolo, "but we had a relatively long period of scoreless minutes and shutouts in a row while a number of those seniors were injured and not playing. A couple of those games, all three of those seniors were injured and couldn't play so some of our younger players were able to maintain the high standard of play and that experience should help them this season."
University of Denver and American University transfer Chase Humphrey, an Ocean City, Md., product, comes to SU this season with three years of eligibility remaining and will be looked upon to help on the defensive side of the ball. Freshmen Kyle Westbrook (Salisbury's James M. Bennett High School) and Grant Keenan have also been very impressive during preseason camp.
Second Team All-CAC junior John Vnenchak returns to lead an experienced group of four goalkeepers. Vnenchak finished 7-3-3 with eight shutouts in net for the Gulls. In 15 games, including 14 starts, he recorded a 0.55 goals-against average.
Vnenchak took over from senior Brandon Mumby, when he went down with an injury. Mumby went 5-0-1 with two shutouts and a 0.36 GAA. Michael Nerud and transfer Nial Krach may also battle for time in the net.
"We've got three outstanding returning goalkeepers," DiBartolo said. "John Vnenchak got most of the minutes last year and was the starter once Brandon Mumby got hurt. Mumby started the year and Mike Nerud has been a phenomenal goalkeeper for us during training sessions."
Salisbury faces a challenging schedule of 17 matches, which features two teams ranked in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason national rankings.
The Sea Gulls, who open the season hosting the Elmer Lord Classic against Penn State University-Altoona and Eastern Mennonite University on Sept. 3-4, host 11th-ranked Johns Hopkins University and No. 17 Christopher Newport University. The Captains come to SU on Sept. 21 while the Blue Jays visit on Oct. 5.
SU will also play two more NCAA-tournament qualifiers on the road at York (Oct. 1) and Richard Stockton College (Oct. 15).
"This is a tough one," DiBartolo said of the schedule. "One of the things we try to do is we try to schedule the best teams we can throughout the course of the year. So, take out the regular conference teams, we play some teams this year that are very competitive teams."