Julius Caesar once said that experience is the teacher of all things.
Over the past three years, ETSU men’s soccer has certainly benefited from what it has had to offer.
Since 2010, they have posted a 35-19-7 (.631) overall record, including a 15-8-2 (.667) mark in A-Sun play. The Bucs are just two years removed from an A-Sun championship in 2010, and they have appeared in the past two A-Sun title games and the past three semifinals. They enter the 2012 A-Sun Championship with the opportunity of being the first team to appear in three straight championship finals since three-time champion UCF from 2002-04.
That experience showed on Wednesday, as a confident No. 3 seed ETSU team took the field and controlled play against No. 6 Jacksonville. The Bucs possessed the ball, never appeared in a rush, and were content to play their game while shrugging off the few real scoring threats the Dolphins sent their way. ETSU outshot JU 13-6, including 5-3 in shots on goal with a decided 10-2 advantage in corner kicks.
“Anytime you are playing an elimination game, things are tense, because of course your entire season is on the line,” said ETSU Head Coach Scott Calabrese. “Despite the pressures of the match, I thought we performed well.”
It stands to reason that the Bucs would be comfortable in the first quarterfinal game of the championship. They are now 3-0 in quarterfinal matches, outscoring their opponents 6-0. ETSU fields one of the more experienced teams in the A-Sun, a roster that boasts balance offensively and defensively. Nine of the 11 starters for ETSU against Jacksonville are upperclassmen, junior or seniors who have played in big games and have shared the A-Sun Championship experience. Six of those return from the team that was on the field to lose the 1-0 heartbreaker to FGCU in last year’s final.
“Jacksonville is always a great test for us,” said ETSU junior and A-Sun Player of the Year, David Geno. “We thought we could have some success on the wings, and that is how the goal set up for us today. We had a good amount of chances today, and we were able to put one away early.”Offensively they are led by Geno, who ranks first in the conference in points and goals . His 30 points are the most in the A-Sun since 2007 when Jacksonville's Anton Axelsson record 36 points. He is the active leader in points, goals and game-winning goals, and his four game-winning goals are tied for most in the conference. Geno provided three shots, including on goal, and the assist in the win against Jacksonville.
“Being named Player of the Year speaks well to the team and how we’ve been able to play this year,” said Geno. “I just happened to be the one in the spot to pick up some of our goals.”
A-Sun Goalkeeper of the Year Ryan Coulter anchors the Bucs’ defense in goal. The junior owns the season’s second-best goals against average at 0.99, and posted a save percentage of .721 with 49 totalsaves. He also recorded six shutouts, the third most in the A-Sun this year.
“Ryan is steady, he is someone we can count on to make the big saves, but also to take care of the little things, to note make mistakes, and tonight he didn’t make any mistakes,” said Calabrese. “Tonight he was very confident in the back. When he is playing well and with confidence it gives our back four and our team confidence as well.”
ETSU has never faced No. 2 Mercer in the A-Sun Championship, but looks forward to avenging a 2-1 home loss to the Bears in Johnson City. The matchup could be one of the best of the championship, as Geno and other Bucs scoring threats will have to contend with Josh Shutter, the A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, and goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh, who leads the A-Sun in Goals Against Average (0.88), Shutouts (7) and Save Percentage(.835).
“Converting our chances is the main focus for us moving forward, because that is the hardest thing to do,” said Calabrese. “I thought we created quite a few good chances tonight, in addition to the one we finished.“Mercer doesn’t concede many chances to you. They defend you well, with Shutter in the back and a solid back four, they buy into working hard and defending well.”