WILLIAMSTOWN - Nineteen times NESCAC has allowed its men’s soccer teams to play for NCAA Division III championships. Sixteen times, Mike Russo has taken his Williams College men to the dance.
Unfortunately for Russo and the Ephs, one of those three years of coming up empty was last year. That’s something the Ephs would like to see change.
"This group can be very good. We’re very young. We have almost 20 underclassmen between the freshmen and sophomores," said Williams goalkeeper Than Finan, a former Mount Greylock standout. "We have a lot of kids stepping up. We have some freshmen playing in the back already. Hopefully, if we stay healthy and have kids step up, we can go a long way."
The Ephs, who were 9-4-3 last year, open play today at Westfield State. Williams jumps right into NESCAC play on Saturday with a home game against Bates.
Williams plays three of its first four games this year on the road. If Williams gets through that gauntlet, the Ephs will close with four of their last five at home on Cole Field.
Russo is beginning his 34th season at the helm of the Ephs. He didn’t have to think much when he was asked to scout his team.
"We’ve lost a couple of backs. We have some good backs we’re trying to break in and we haven’t settled in on a starting back four," said Russo. "Our midfielders and our strikers are good this year. I think we’ll score more goals
A year ago, the Ephs scored 21 goals in 16 games, while giving up only 10. Junior Usher Kushaina had four goals to lead the Ephs in scoring. Midfielder Peter Christman
Finan will be battling Peter Morrell for the starting goalkeeping position with the Ephs. Finan, a senior, played in 12 games and started 10. He had a 0.63 goals-against average and seven shutouts.
"We have two very good goalkeepers," said Russo. "I think it’s pretty close now. Peter, two years ago, was the better of the two. Last year, Than was the better of the two. Now, it’s who wants it."
Williams graduated six from last year’s team, including All-America back Phil Vestergaard. Co-captain Matt Ratajczak, who plays left-center back, will anchor the defense. The other back liners are either sophomores or juniors.
After beating Concordia College of Montreal 2-1 in an exhibition on Sunday, Russo pronounced his team as ready for Wednesday as it can be.
"I’m a little bit nervous because Westfield has been out a long time, they’re a good team and it’s on turf," said Russo. "After [Sunday] I’m confident we’ll come to play."