DURHAM, N.H. - As freshmen, they won six games. As sophomores, they earned UNH its first postseason berth in seven seasons and followed that up as juniors by recording the program's first 10-win campaign since 1995 and advancing to the America East tournament for the second straight season. Now, as seniors, the class of 2004 will look to bring home New Hampshire's first America East conference title and with it earn the program's second-ever NCAA berth.
The 2003 Wildcat roster will feature eight seniors, six of them starters a season ago. Leading this year's senior contingent are a pair of America East All-Conference selections in Brendan Hankard (Glastonbury, Conn.) and Josh Hareld (North Kingstown, R.I.)
The Wildcats suffered a setback in early August when last year's leading scorer Nicola Chicco decided to forego his final year of eligibility and turn pro in Italy. Still, the Wildcats return six of their seven leading scorers from last season's team that featured five all-conference selections. Sprinkle in some talented newcomers and the 'Cats have all the pieces in place for a run at the America East crown.
The Wildcats have no shortage of talented forwards, starting with junior Logan Lee (Racine, Wis.). Last year, Lee and Chicco were the first set of UNH teammates to each record 20 points in a season since Mike Veneto and Ryan Leib in 1994. Lee tied for the team lead with nine goals and was named to the conference's second team.
Matt Glode (Durham, N.H.) saw action in just eight contests a season ago, but made the most of his time on the pitch, recording four goals and two assists for 10 points to rank fourth on the squad in scoring. He can play either forward or midfield.
Chris Bennice (Scotia, N.Y.) joins the Wildcats with two seasons of eligibility remaining after transferring from Big East power St. John's. Bennice saw action in 22 games during his two-plus year stint with the Red Storm, registering three goals and an assist. Like Glode, he can play up front or in the middle. Ross Fishbain (Racine, Wis.) is a newcomer that will look to gain experience in his first season.
Anchoring the UNH midfield will be a pair of seniors in Hareld and Brett Wyman (Durham, N.H.) along with junior Tyler Jackson (Amherst, N.H.) and sophomore Eric Masi (York, Maine). Senior Jamey Haughton (Hampton, N.H.) should also figure into the mix.
Hareld, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore playing up front, moved into the midfield last season and totaled 1-5-7 while being selected to the America East Second Team. Wyman, who has started 25 of 32 games over the past two seasons, appeared in 15 games last fall and will look to have a bigger role this season. Jackson totaled 2-2-6 while appearing in 12 games after missing several games early in the season due to injury.
Masi had a fine freshman campaign in 2002. He tied for the team lead in assists (5) while being named to the America East All-Rookie Team after totaling 1-5-7. Haughton has steadily improved in each of the past three seasons and will push for playing time after appearing in seven matches last season.
Sophomores Jonathan Burg (New Milford, Conn.) and Michael Card (Amherst, N.H.) along with freshmen Matt Low (Salem, N.H.) and Matt Shump (Durham, N.H.) will all look to crack a deep midfield.
Hankard leads a defense that allowed an America East-low 20 goals during the 2002 regular season. Last season, Hankard was a two-time America East Player of the Week, a first team All-New England selection and was also named a College Soccer News Honorable Mention All-America. Starting all 17 games, Hankard also ranked third on the team in scoring, recording totals of 5-4-14.
Seniors Matt Chambers (Conifer, Colo.) and Nicholas Mello (Rehoboth, Mass.) return as mainstays in the UNH backfield. Chambers started every game last season and has started 32 of 34 games over the past two seasons. Mello was injured in preseason and missed most of the first half of 2002. He did, however, appear in seven games down the stretch. Ben Utter (Arlington, Mass.) and Otaso Osayimwese (Lincoln University, Pa.) both return for a third season on defense.
Freshmen Pedro Braz (East Providence, R.I.), Nicholas Laliberte (Nashua, N.H.) and Geoff Sanford (Johnson City, N.Y.) also join the defensive unit this season. Braz was All-New England in 2002 while Laliberte was a first team all-state selection at Nashua HS. Sanford was a first team all-conference selection. Wyman will also likely see some time in the backfield in addition to his midfield duties.
Mike Vignola (Hudson, N.H.) emerged as one of the top keepers in America East last season, recording an America East-low 1.22 goals-against average to go along with his .769 save percentage. He recorded three shutouts in 2002 and collected all-tournament honors at both the Nike Fall Soccer Classic and the Smith Barney Soccer Classic.
Challenging Vignola for playing time will be freshman Brian Levey (Pittsburgh, Pa.). Levey, who stands 6-4, recorded a 0.75 GAA with 37 shutouts at North Allegheny HS while earning Regional All-America honors last season.
Rounding out the goalkeeping corps will be Todd Kratt (Hampton, N.H.) and freshman Mike Jenne (Vernon, N.Y.)
Before the 2003 campaign gets underway, UNH will travel to Holland for 11 days in August. While there, the Wildcats will compete against clubs from Holland, Belgium and Germany, playing a total of six matches.
New Hampshire opens the regular season at home with the 14th annual Nike Fall Soccer Classic. The 'Cats will take on St. Joseph's on August 29 then face Iona two days later. Vermont will also be making its ninth-straight appearance.
UNH will play two games on Bremner Field this season. On September 27 the 'Cats face UMass on the AstroPlay surface, then play the first on-campus night game in the program's history October 1 when they face Dartmouth for the first time since 1998.
The 'Cats will take on some weighty non-conference opposition, as they will face North Carolina and Vanderbilt in this year's Smith Barney Classic at Vermont and Denver and Air Force in the Denver Invitational.
The six-team America East tournament kicks off November 8.