Late losses don’t reflect successful BYU soccer season

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The final two matches of the season for the BYU men’s soccer team were far from characteristic of the Cougars’ 2012 campaign. The team lost 1-0 to division champion Ventura County on July 13 followed by a disappointing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Orange County Blue Star the following night.

“It definitely doesn’t mirror what our season was,” junior midfielder Toni Niccoli said. “It was a bitter way to end what was a great season.”

The Cougars played the Ventura County Fusion to a scoreless tie through the majority of the match, but a goal in minute 70 by Chris Tsonis sealed the match for the Fusion. After the match, the Cougars traveled to Orange County to face the Blue Star July 14. Fatigue set in for BYU, and Orange County scored early and often en route to a 5-1 victory. Sophomore forward Jace Green chipped in the only goal for the Cougars.

Despite the frustrating finale, BYU enjoyed a successful year. The team was in the playoff hunt for nearly the whole season until three late losses doomed its postseason aspirations. The Cougars earned a school-high 20 points in division play, and finished with a record of 10-8-5.

“I think this season we’ve done well, and it will be a good building block as far as preparing for next season,” said Rich Harrison,¬†sophomore forward.

The Cougars compete in the Premier Development League, a nationwide league that is considered higher than NCAA competition in the pyramid of U.S. soccer. BYU became the first university-sponsored team in league history when it purchased a franchise in 2003. Notwithstanding the fierce competition, the Cougars have held their own against more experienced teams.

“We’re used to having Wyoming on our schedule, right, and we can go beat them, and we just don’t have games like that for us,” head coach Chris Watkins said. “And so it’s tough to be confident as you step out every day, but we’ve done a good job of keeping our heads up and believing in ourselves and playing our game.”

The confidence that helped the squad excel this year is even more evident as the players look forward to next season. Only one senior, midfielder Josh Patino, will not return. While several freshman, including starting midfielder Dallin Cutler, will go on missions, four players will return from the mission field ready to contribute in 2013.

“We return a ton of talent,” Watkins said. “Next year will be by far the deepest team we’ve ever had. I really look forward to it.”

The team will look to harness the lessons learned this year, coupled with hard work in the off-season, in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

“We’ve got so much talent and so much potential,” sophomore defender Sterling Hancock said. “If we can just build on this year and be that little bit better next year, I think we’ll be able to make the playoffs.”

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