NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's soccer team embarks on its 61st varsity season this fall and the fourth year under head coach Adam Pfeifer.
The Cadets are coming off an 11-3-4 season in 2018 with a 7-2-2 record in an increasingly difficult Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC).
Norwich started the season on a 12-game unbeaten streak before eventually falling to two-time reigning GNAC champion Saint Joseph's (Maine) at home on Sabine Field. Despite going 2-3-1 in its final six games, Norwich extended its impressive streak to 15 straight years of reaching at least the conference semifinal round. The Cadets also won 10 or more games for the 13th straight season.
Pfeifer has brought in 17 newcomers to join the 16 returners as Norwich continues its fight to try and dethrone Saint Joseph's (Maine) and win its first GNAC Tournament title since 2008.
Among the large group of newcomers are five players from Newbury College, who all transferred to Norwich to finish up their education after Newbury closed this past May due to financial difficulties.
"Our team and Norwich University are lucky to have the Newbury transfers," Pfeifer said. "They all feel grateful to have the opportunity to finish up their education and college soccer careers here. They've been welcomed into our group and been a great fit so far in preseason."
Four of the Newbury transfers will be seniors this season and finish up their collegiate careers. Newbury won the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) title last season and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, before falling in the first round to SUNY Cortland.
"We have a lot of new faces, but that has been the norm the last couple years," Pfeifer said. "Even though we have a lot of new guys, it feels like we are more mature because we have a bunch of players that have been through three college preseasons before and are comfortable getting together with the rest of the group. This team has gelled much quicker than I could have expected or hoped for."
With two-year starter Brendan Germano graduating this past May, the goalkeeper position has been a wide-open battle throughout preseason camp. Sophomore Ben Wasco (Arlington, Mass.) is the only returning keeper from last year's team, but he's been battling with three new promising freshmen that are all vying to win time.
"We have three new goalkeepers that are all Rooks in the Corps of Cadets with Robert Wagenseller (Poway, Calif.), Jacob Wiggins (Willington, Conn.) and Sebastian Llanes (Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla.)," Pfeifer said. "Robert came from one of the best club programs in the country and has a lot of experience playing in highly competitive games. Sebastian and Andrew have both been playing well in the preseason and they have all been pushing each other to perform. We feel very good about that spot with those four players."
At defense, Norwich will have to replace Matt Mazzola and Chris Clain, who both played and started for a majority of their four-year careers. Senior transfer Andrew Kalombo (Worcester, Mass.) and freshman Elias Gabrielsson (Ostersund, Sweden) are both expected to come in and contribute right away.
"We graduated two key contributors in Clain and Mazzola that played a lot of minutes for us," Pfeifer said. "Kalombo was the NECC Player of the Year and has a lot of experience at Newbury. Gabrielsson was loaned out to one of the top youth clubs in Sweden and we feel his experience should translate well to the GNAC."
Vermilya was a GNAC Second Team All-Conference selection last season, while Brannan scored two goals and will be a key component on set pieces this year for the Cadets. Sophomore Ryan McKee (Oneonta, N.Y.) transferred in this year and was high school teammates with Brannan.
In the midfield, Pfeifer will have plethora of options, including three returning players that saw plenty of minutes last season in juniors Matt Bento (Brookfield, Conn.), Andre Rodriguez (Wallingford, Conn.) and Nick Tantillo (Tolland, Conn.). Sophomore Staige Davis (Shelburne, Vt.) also returns after taking a season off. In 2017, he started 15 games, scoring four goals and tallying three assists for 11 points. Norwich also adds two transfers from Newbury and a couple promising young freshmen to the mix as well.
"We've got a strong group of guys returning and we're adding in even more depth and talent to choose from," Pfeifer said. "Josue Lopez (Chula Vista, Calif.) and Julio Arreola (Chula Vista, Calif.) from Newbury both had excellent preseasons. Shoki Araki (Riverside, Conn.) played at a high level in Connecticut. Hunter Lortie (Manchester, N.H.) has also looked good in preseason. We've got quite a few guys to compete for roles in those areas."
Up front, Norwich returns sophomore Amerle Nemeye (Burlington, Vt.), who earned GNAC Second Team honors last season after scoring six goals and six assists for 18 points.
Freshman Joe Thongsythavong (Salem, Mass.) was the Boston Globe Player of the Year and will be joined by senior transfer Julius Davis (Peabody, Mass.) and sophomore transfer Albert Baraka (Worcester, Mass). Freshman Matteo Iagrossi (Schenectady, N.Y.) will also compete for time up front and be counted on to score goals.
"Our depth is going to be different this year than the last couple years," Pfeifer said. "I feel like we have a lot of guys that can give us a lot of good minutes and that hasn't necessarily been the case as much the last couple years."
Norwich was picked second in the GNAC Preseason Coaches Poll behind three-time defending champion Saint Joseph's (Maine). The Cadets edged out Johnson & Wales for the second spot with 131 points to 126.
"St. Joe's is the clear favorite," Pfeifer said. "JWU won three championships before SJC won three so those two teams have been incredibly strong the last five or so years. We've been able to infiltrate that group at times, but they have been just a little more consistent throughout the year as the cream of crop in the GNAC."
It's far from a three-horse race this year though in the GNAC as Colby-Sawyer, Regis and Univ. of St. Joseph (Conn.) have all proven to be strong additions to the league the last few years and will look to play spoiler this season.
Norwich opens the 2019 season on Friday at 4 p.m. when it takes on Southern Maine as part of the 2019 Cadet Kickoff Classic. Colby-Sawyer takes on Wheaton at 7 p.m. in the nightcap. The Cadets will then face Wheaton on Saturday at 7 p.m. following Southern Maine and Colby-Sawyer playing at 4 p.m.