Rankings, hype being ignored

The men’s soccer team took the Big East by storm in 2005.

In their first year in the conference, the Bulls compiled a conference-best 9-2-0 in the Big East en route to winning the Big East’s Red Division and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in USF history.

With 10 of the 11 starters from last year’s squad returning in 2006, expectations are high this season. Along with being ranked No. 18 in the NSCAA/adidas preseason poll, the Bulls have three players on the preseason All-Big East team, the most of any school in the conference. While recognition is a good way of rewarding the team’s success and hard work last season, fifth-year coach George Kiefer has been stressing the fact that preseason rankings and conference team selections are not where the team’s focus should be directed.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to do as a team is just focus on what we have next and the things that we can control,” Kiefer said. “We can’t control where we’re ranked, and we can’t control what people think about us. We can control our behavior and how hard we train, so we’re really just trying to spend time focusing on the controllable things.”

Defender Yohance Marshall agrees with Kiefer. The sophomore, who was selected as a team captain for this season along with goalie Dane Brenner and forward Hunter West, admits that while a preseason ranking adds excitement to the locker room, the team must remember it doesn’t mean anything on the field.

“Yeah, everybody’s excited that we ended on a positive note for the season like we did last year and that they’re ranking us nationwide now, but we don’t want to say, ‘All right, they’re ranking us now, so we just have to go out and play,'” Marshall said. “We know we are going to have to work extra hard to keep that level of performance.”

Brenner knows how long it takes for a new group of players to build chemistry, and he feels that the returning squad alongside some talented additions will allow USF to start the season in stride.

“It feels good because you see so many guys around you, and you have a better feel for the players on the team,” Brenner said. “We pretty much have all the same guys with a few newcomers who are very good, so it gives you a little extra confidence.”

Along with the returning players from last year’s squad, the incoming freshmen class has received a good deal of preseason attention as well. The 2006 class was ranked as the 10th-best recruiting class in the nation by College Soccer News, and many players feel the additions should make for an exciting season.

“As a team, we’re definitely happy having the veterans that we’re getting back, but some of the newcomers are definitely influential on the team,” junior midfielder Rodrigo Hidalgo said. “I would say that most of them are definitely going to be competing for a spot.”

However, USF faces a schedule that features tough matches against powerhouses such as Notre Dame and Duke. Kiefer is being sure to remind his players the success they saw last year doesn’t mean a thing once the season kicks off.

“You’ve seen so many teams in so many different sports look at what they did a year ago and then think that it will just happen for them the next year,” Kiefer said. “We have very good leadership in Hunter, Dane and Yohance (Marshall). Those three guys are my captains, and we’re making a big effort to stay hungry and know that we have a lot of work to do.”