One of the things that Mercy College had grown accustomed to over the past few years was a losing soccer season. Years of futility have finally given way to success this season as the Mavericks men’s soccer team powered their way all the way to the ECC semifinals and 10-5-3 record.
The Mavericks, paced by senior forward William Koki’s 12 goals and 28 points (good for second in the conference) secured their first winning season since 2006 and their first playoff berth under Head Coach Chris Smith. It was also the first double-digit win season for the Mavericks since 2004.
Mercy was projected to finish ninth in the conference, but stunned the league with a 4-4 conference record. Mercy fell to top-ranked LIU, 7-1, in the ECC semis. LIU went on to win the ECC championship by defeating NYIT two days later.
The Mavericks started the season hot, jumping out to a 5-1-2 record (plus an undefeated exhibition schedule) though doubts and cynicism surrounded the team. Their hot start mimicked the hot start the Mavericks had the season prior before a slump resulted in them losing nine of their last 10 matches and finishing with an disappointing 6-10-1 record. This team was determined to erase any memory of last season’s meltdown and that determination was exemplified by their play on the pitch.
“We have a lot of returning guys that worked real hard during the offseason and extremely hard in the preseason and I think that made us mentally tougher,” said Smith.
The Mavericks also had an advantage that teams in past years didn’t have. The field at Mercy College was patchy, un-even, and completely unpredictable making passing or dribbling on it an adventure with every touch. This season, the Mavericks unveiled their new, state-of-the-art field and it paid dividends immediately. The faster Maverick Field allowed the team to better implement their speed and dictate the pace more to their strengths.
The Mavericks entered the season with 20 returning players from the season before and had 18 dormers (as opposed to four from the season before, a testament to the improved recruitment of the Mercy program).
The biggest difference between this season’s successful Mavericks campaign and last season’s collapse isn’t just mental toughness, isn’t merely their improved conditioning and rededication to the program, and it certainly isn’t just the field. The biggest difference is simple: health.
Last season, the roster was decimated by injuries. Players played out of their natural position for long stretches of the season as key cogs were incapacitated by injuries. Though they suffered their bumps and bruises along the way, the Mavericks managed to stay relatively healthy this season allowing a promising and exciting roster to maintain its high level of play throughout the season.
A healthy Mavericks team managed to stay ranked each week of the season in the NSCAA East Region and climbed as high as in the rankings as number 24 in NCAA Division II (the first time the team’s been regionally ranked). Koki led the team in every major offensive category (shots, goals, assists, points, game winning goals) and was destined to improve on last season’s All-ECC Second Team honors following his dominant season.
This season has to be considered an unmitigated success for a program that stumbled in the most dramatic of fashions a season ago and whose head coach considers a postseason berth and double digit win totals as the barometer of success. That goal was accomplished when the Mavericks earned a draw in a double overtime marathon against St. Thomas Aquinas on October 27, securing the first playoff berth for Mercy under Smith’s regime and the first playoff berth for the Mavericks soccer team since 2004.
“(Making the playoffs) is great for Mercy College, and it’s great for the whole athletics department,“ said Coach Smith.
Though several of the team’s key starters are graduating, the Mavericks have gotten a taste of success and have no intentions of resting on their laurels comes next season. Coach Smith is determined to instill new standards and expectations for the program and is not satisfied with having one good season to his name.
“All the teams here at Mercy College are trying to be competitive first and foremost. Men’s soccer, we’ve done a good job of turning it around in three years. We’re doing everything we can to be as successful as we can. We’re getting the right type of guys here,” said Smith who called recruitment the “lifeblood” of athletics and is determined to maintain the newfound level of respect the program has earned around the league.
After years of being the league’s doormats and being utterly helpless against superior opponents, the Mavericks have finally shed the “outmatched” label and have every intention of making it stick. After years of impotence, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel on the Mercy soccer pitch.
ECC Honors: senior forward William Koki was named to the All-East Coast Conference First Team while senior forward Ernest Afful and junior goalkeeper Nick Papas were named to the All-ECC Second Team