Maverick “New’ Culture Invades Soccer Field

By Chayim Tauber

Sports Editor


In 2010, coach Chris Smith was handed the reins of a Mercy soccer program that had gone 4-26-1 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. The idea of a coach even uttering the phrase “NCAA tournament” regarding Mavericks soccer was unthinkable. However, the team notched a respectable six wins in Smith’s inaugural season and is looking to silence quite a few of the  league-wide detractors this season.

“The program’s been used to handling failure. Now, we’re going to have to handle some success,” said Smith about this upcoming season.

This season, Mercy is off to a 5-1-1 start after shutting out the University of the District of Columbia after junior William Koki recorded a hat trick.  Mercy has rattled off wins against Bridgeport, Nyack, Felician and St. Rose, with its only loss coming in double overtime to St. Anselm, 4-3.

In his first year with the team, Smith was able to get his team to reduce their goals allowed from 42 in ’09 down to a more manageable 24 last year.

“You have start with a defensive philosophy…,” Smith said. “We shaved almost half the number of goals.  That’s why we went almost .500.”

The defense, as with any team, is paced by junior goalkeeper and ECC Honor Roll and Player of the Week Nick Papas.  He is second in the ECC in saves and saves per game, is third in save percentage, and fifth with a GAA under 1.25. His steadying presence between the posts has allowed the Mavericks to start this season 4-1-1 (well on pace to shatter the previous seasons record) and earn themselves a regional ranking (ninth in the region).

It’s not just the Mavericks’ turnaround that’s so surprising, but it’s how quickly they were able to do it. Smith took what was one of the league’s doormats and is building a program that has put the league on notice, and not just for this season.

“We took what we had last year and we added some guys and now we have another good recruiting class coming in,” said Smith. “We’re building a better program through better players.”

Among those aforementioned “better players” are Colin Legge and  Koki, who lead the team in goals. Two other players singled out by Smith for their exceptional play early in the season are forward Ben Latchford and back Manuel Paulino, though the coach attributes the team’s early success to a team effort/concept/and willingness to do the dirty work.

Smith talked about the team’s dedication, commitment, and effort, not just in the games but in practice as well. This is a team that understands that they are not only fighting for a playoff spot or for a good season. This second squad of the “Smith regime” is trying to break a trend of losing soccer that’s become something of the norm at Mercy over the past decade. This group is making a vaunted effort to buck the current losing trend and set a new precedent that will help redefine the Mavericks’  image.

When asked about his team’s identity, Smith proudly boasted not just about the improved athleticism and soccer prowess of his teams, but of their academic and scholastic accomplishments.

“Our guys are more athletic and can do well in the classroom,” a proud Smith claimed. “We’ve had the best GPA in the past 3 semesters out of the four men’s teams.”

Smith was just as proud and as quick to point to his team’s academic feats as he was of their recent four game win streak. Though he’s obviously proud of the work his team’s put in to the restoration of Mercy’s image and the impact that he and his coaches have had on the program, Smith was quick to point out that there’s still plenty of soccer left to play and that a quick start doesn’t guarantee a good season.

“Obviously it’s early so you don’t want to make any bold predictions…” Smith started. “…Double digit wins, conference playoffs, maybe even the conference championship game, and who knows, maybe an invite to the NCAA tournament.”

Though many could dismiss Smith’s aspirations as the naïve optimistic aspirations of a coach, the Mercy players seem to have bought into Smith’s message. Their level of play and determination is evident in each practice and each game. They take the pitch and they each believe that their potential has yet to be realized.

“Changing the culture here at Mercy College.” said Smith. “That’s what we’re doing – just trying to change the culture.”



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