Monmouth University - Three Star Recruiting Class - Monmouth will become the new kid on the block when they begin play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in 2013 after a very successful stay in the Northeast Conference. The Hawks were the model of success in the NEC winning the regular season title from 2005 through 2011 and the tournament title in 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The 2012 season was a rebuilding year of sorts for Monmouth who finished the season with a 11-4-4 overall record and a 6-2-2 mark in conference play. Rob McCourt will welcome back seven starters from the 2012 team as well as a solid contingent of non-starters who saw significant playing time. The Hawks have also has added an eight member recruiting class that includes midfielder Colin Stripling from Scotch Plains, New Jersey who is an NSCAA High School All-American and highly regarded goalkeeper Eric Klenofsky from Lincoln Park, New Jersey.
McCourt stated, "Last year we won eleven games with seven new starters. Adding the new freshman group, and having our returners with a full year under their belts makes it an exciting time for us."
The Hawks will be without midfielders Ryan Clark (3g, 6a) and Matt Beverin (0g, 3a), goalkeeper Alex Blackburn, and forward Alex Weidman (1g, 1a) due to graduation. The four seniors won the NEC regular season and tournament titles three times and played in the NCAA Tourney three times during their tenure in West Long Branch. Clark who was a four-time All-NEC selection and Blackburn who played every minute in goal for Monmouth for the past two seasons will be particularly difficult to replace.
Defense was a big positive for the Hawks last year as they held opponents to a total of only fourteen goals. Junior center backs Emmanuel Agyemang who was an All-NEC First Team selection and Matt Jeffrey return to anchor what should once again be a very formidable back line. They form a center back duo that is among the most tenacious in the country. Redshirt sophomore John Eagen who transfers in from St. John's where he was a starter last year should fit into the right back spot and Derek Luke who missed most of last year due to injury but is now healthy will compete for the left back position. Sophomore David Acuna Camacho who was a starter last year brings an athletic and physical presence to the pitch which is a big plus. Look for Comacho to be a vital part of the backline or the midfield.
Priority number one facing McCourt may be filling the shoes of Blackburn, a 2012 All-NEC First Team selection, in goal. Junior Stephen Graziani who has been Blackburn's understudy between the pipes for the past two years looks to be the front runner for the job but will likely face stiff competition for playing time from freshmen Eric Klenofsky and Zach Neugabauer.
Senior midfielders Joseph Schmid (5g, 3a) and Francis "Paco" Navarro (5g, 4a) will no doubt play key roles in the Hawk offense in 2013. Schmid was a 2012 All-NEC First Team selection and will be the guy who sets the pace for the Hawks in 2013. Schmid may not be a towering midfielder at 5'6" but he has established that he can hold his own with the best. Juniors Ryan McNamara and Bryant Avalos and sophomore Tomas Penfold (2g, 1a) are among other returning midfielders who will play key roles in 2013.
Senior Jacob Rubinstein (2g, 2a) who was slowed last year by injury returns to give the Hawks a very athletic and technically solid target player up-top. Junior Edney Derrick (2g, 3a) on other hand brings game changing quickness and pace to the Hawk attack up-top. Junior Andres Penfold (2g, 1a) provides the Hawks yet another viable option at forward. The emergence of a greater offensive presence up-top will add an additional dimension to the offense and be helpful as Monmouth not only looks to secure the MAAC crown, but to play their way back into the NCAA Tournament.
McCourt stated, "We are excited about the quality of the team moving forward. We lose some talented experienced winners, but we feel our squad is as good as we have ever been. " He added, "The move to the MAAC is exciting for us. It is a new challenge in a new conference that puts a real emphasis on its conference championships."
Earning respect in the college soccer world and breaking into the rankings is often difficult particularly when you are not a member of one of the powerhouse conferences. It takes several successful seasons to turn heads on the national scene. Monmouth is among the programs that has accomplished that feat but the margin for error is small and the Hawks must continue to stack up the wins or they could slip back into the middle of the pack.
Monmouth will open the 2013 season with non-conference contests on the road against North Carolina and Wake Forest. Those contests present the opportunity for the Hawks to make a big statement but their season will ultimately come down to how well they perform in MAAC play. After a season of growing pains last year, the Hawks should be significantly improved in 2013. All signs point to a very successful and exciting inaugural season for Monmouth in the MAAC.
Chris Bonavito - Defender - Califon, New Jersey - Voorhees High School - Star Ledger All-State Central New Jersey. First-Team All-Division. Played for PDA Harkes Soccer Club.
Wilson Bonilla - Defender - Long Branch, New Jersey - Biotechnology High School - 2012 Star Ledger 3rd Team All-State. 2012 First Team All-Shore Conference. NJSA 04 Soccer Club.
John Egan - Defender - Smithtown, New York - Hauppauge High School - Transfer from St. John's University where he appeared in every match last year. 2010 First Team All-County and All-League.
Eric Klenofsky - Goalkeeper -Lincoln Park, New Jersey - DePaul Catholic High School - Represented the East in the NSCAA All-America game. 2012 Star Ledge First Team All-State. TSF Academy Club Team.
Brandon McCarthy - Midfield - Ludlow, Massachusetts - South Kent High School - 2011 MIAA Division 1 State Cup Champions. First Team All Western Massachusetts. Division 1 All-Star Team.
Zach Neugebauer - Goalkeeper - Waldwick, New Jersey -Waldwick High School - 2012 SCANJ All-State. 2011 All-League. TSF Academy Club Team.
Colin Stripling - Midfield - Scotch Plains, New Jersey - Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School - 2012 NSCAA High School All-American. Star Ledger New Jersey State Player of the Year. PDA Harkes Club Team.
Tim West -Midfield - Colts Neck, New Jersey - Christian Brothers Academy - Junior transfer from Fairfield University where he played in fifteen contests in 2011 and eight matches in 2012.