As the ball rolled harmlessly away to the touchline and the final seconds of the USF-Saint Louis match ticked down Nov. 3, the Bulls and their fans were left to ponder a match, and a season, of near misses. The most glaring miss of all was the one goal every team shoots for ? a postseason berth.
The Billikens ended USF?s 2000 season with a nail-biting 4-3 win at the USF Soccer Stadium. Despite leading twice, the Bulls found themselves on the outside of the Conference USA tournament window looking in.
?My team was so close to being a complete team, but yet we still made mistakes,? said coach John Hackworth. ?And I think that was due to our overall inexperience in the team.
?It was very disappointing, but at the same time I look ahead to the future, and I think ?You know what, these games are going to make us that much better in the next couple of years.??
Besides inexperience, Hackworth detected a lack of commitment and passion for the game last year, but he believes this year?s squad is up to the task.
?I really feel very comfortable with the players that are returning,? Hackworth said. ?I think they are committed to the goals that we have set.?
Whereas the returning players might be more experienced than before, the Bulls will be without a number of other seasoned players from a year ago. Five valuable seniors played their last collegiate match against Saint Louis: defenders Ryan Anatol and Ryan Beaudoin, midfielders Dave Ambush and Wes Elias and forward Greg Krauss.
In addition to the five seniors, five other Bulls will not suit up for USF this season. Goalkeeper Chris Simpson (College of Charleston), midfielders Sage Martina (College of Charleston), Jonathan Alva-Cavero (Providence) and forward Andy Chase (Furman) have transferred, while right winger Paul Scrivens is still enrolled at USF.
To compensate for those losses, Hackworth signed five freshmen and two transfers. Forward J.P. Pagano, left midfielder Justin Norton, left back Chris Raye, right back Jason Miller and central defender Jared Vock make up the freshman class. Hackworth said Vock was one of the most highly recruited players in the country and could contribute immediately in the USF defense.
The transfers are attacking players Simba Harris and Kevin Cowan. Harris spent one year at Florida International and is the brother of Jamaican national player Wolde Harris. 24-year-old Cowan comes to USF after spending four years in the Army, and Hackworth said he expects him to bring maturity to the field and the locker room.
?Plus, he?s got some tools that you just can?t coach,? Hackworth said. ?He hasn?t played at our level yet.?
The Bulls will also benefit from the availability of another attacking player, C.D. Harris, who was deemed ineligible by the NCAA last year and redshirted this season.
Those three will compete with senior Jason Cudjoe to fill the goal-scoring boots of Krauss, who led the league with 16 goals and was an All-C-USA Second Team selection.
Cowan and C.D. Harris may also be asked to provide help from the midfield, where junior central midfielders Jeff Thwaites and Gabriel Salgado will team with senior winger Matt Cavenaugh. Thwaites led the conference in assists per game last season.
On the defensive end of the field, the goalkeeping duties belong to sophomore Troy Perkins, who impressed many with his athleticism and command of the game as a freshman. The defense in front of Perkins will feature the likes of Vock, sophomore Aaron Ortega, and juniors Ben Cowherd, Brian Mullins, Joe Valencia and Casey Stump.
?It?s ironic that, on paper, we were not a very good defensive team last year, but I think that will be our strength this year,? Hackworth said.
That defense, and the rest of the USF squad, will be tested throughout a schedule which opens at home versus Lafayette Friday and includes non-conference matches against Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina and UNC-Greensboro. Conference opponents include C-USA regular-season and tournament champions Saint Louis, and UAB, an NCAA Tournament participant with the Billikens.
USF will host the six-team C-USA Tournament Nov. 15-16, the first time the site has been pre-determined. The Bulls will vie for their first title since 1998.
Some team members have prepared by playing in the Premier Development League in Cape Cod, Cowherd and Mullins joined the Olympic Festival South Region Team and a few of the Bulls have put in training time with the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
?Those kind of experiences bode very well for our team,? Hackworth said.