SVC men look to break playoff drought

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BENNINGTON — A new, energetic determination has taken hold of the Southern Vermont College men's soccer program as a young Mountaineer squad is working to get back into the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) playoffs for the first time since 2012.

The league announced the results of its 2017 preseason poll on Friday with SVC being voted by conference coaches to finish fifth in the standings this year.

"We expect to compete on a level that this program hasn't seen in the past four years," said second-year SVC head coach Greg Gilmore. "We've made a lot of changes from the past season — both on and off the field — and we are really looking to set the foundation for the years to come. With what we've seen in our preseason contests, we can be very competitive, but we need to stay hungry and keep working to get better every day. There is a lot of potential in this group, but there will be a lot of challenges with youth and inexperience at the collegiate level. I expect to see this team competing in the playoffs."

Southern Vermont went 4-10-3 overall last year, posting a 1-4-3 mark in Conference action. Included in those draws was a 1-1 tie with a Daniel Webster College team that would go on to win its third-straight NECC title before grabbing a victory in its NCAA first-round matchup.

"We will need to pick up a few league wins," Gilmore said when asked what the team will have to do in order to make the postseason tournament, "but after the Conference realignment for this season, our goal is really to host the first round of the playoffs. We want to bring men's soccer playoff action back to Everett Field — something it hasn't seen in a while. In order to do this, we will need to know how to win on the road and be strong at home. We want to play at a high-intensity level for 90 minutes; at times last year, with our lack of depth, we were spending too much time recovering. We have the largest roster this program has ever seen, and we expect to use it to be much more aggressive this year."

Gilmore returns only five players from last year's team but supplements that group with 20 incomers — 18 of those being freshmen. Collectively, the new faces represent 12 states including California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Georgia.

Included in the returners are juniors Nikolas Joseph and Matthew Hatch. Joseph was the main facilitator of the Mountaineer offense in 2016 as he notched a team-leading seven assists — a mark that saw him rank second in the NECC. Hatch spent a bulk of his playing time in the SVC backfield while also supplying three helpers on the year.

"The future is bright for this program," Gilmore added. "We have had a couple of tough and competitive preseason matches, and the returning players definitely recognize that we can compete at a very high level in the NECC this year. If we can stay disciplined, there's no limit on what we can achieve this season."

Southern Vermont is set to begin the regular season with Norwich University's Cadet Kickoff Classic September 1-2; the Mountaineers will take on the hosts at 4:30 p.m. on that Friday to start the 2017 campaign before taking on Ithaca College the next day. SVC's home opener will be when the College hosts the 2017 LINAO Mountaineer Invitational September 9 and 10 — a tournament that will see SUNY Canton, the University of Maine at Farmington, and SUNY Oswego visit the SVC campus. Southern Vermont then begins NECC play on September 23 with a 3:30 p.m. home tilt against Wheelock College.

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