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Season Preview: Experienced Bulldogs Have High Hopes For 2012

Yale celebrates the win. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Yale celebrates the win. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Season Kicks Off Friday At Central Connecticut

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – There was clearly a new attitude on the Yale men's soccer team last year. It translated into a successful season. The Bulldogs won five more games than 2010 and three more Ivy League games.

The promise that the 2011 Bulldogs showed should carry over to 2012. Yale returns a solid nucleus from the team that went 8-7-2 overall and 4-3 in league play a year ago and will welcome a talented freshman class. As a result, long-time head coach Brian Tompkins is optimistic as the Bulldogs prepare for Friday's season-opener at Central Connecticut.

"The word we have emphasized over and over this preseason is evolution," Tompkins said. "There has been a lot of change and growth within Yale Soccer the past 18 months, and after last season's improvement on the field we are looking to continue our evolution towards becoming one of the league's very best teams. We have talent and experience and a growth mindset which we think will make us a difficult team to beat.

"The Ivy League is one of the toughest and most competitive conferences in the country every year, and we expect this year to be no exception. If we can apply ourselves well, stay away from injuries and conjure up some good fortune when we need it, we feel that we can make a statement and build on the achievements of last year."

The Bulldogs should feature one of the stingiest defenses in the Ivy League. Combined, the returning defenders have started 139 games over the last four years. The anchor is junior Nick Alers, who earned first team All-Ivy and third-team all-region honors last fall. Alers has started all 32 games he has appeared in during his first two seasons at Yale.

Senior Milan Tica and junior Tucker Kocher have a wealth of experience as well. Tica has made 43 starts in his successful career and has contributed 10 points (2 goals, 6 assists), while Kocher started a career-high 12 games last year.

Andy Hackbarth, who missed all of last season, has returned to the team but is still struggling with his injury. Hackbarth earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition in each of his first three seasons.

A pair of freshmen should have an impact of the defense. Philip Piper (The Woodlands, Texas) played with the Texas Rush of the US Soccer Development Academy last year. Pablo Espinola (Somerville, Mass.) was the Independent School League Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Buckingham Browne & Nichols. Freshman Tyler Detorie (Canton, Conn.) also could contribute. He earned CSCA all-state honors as a senior at Canton High School.

Yale's last line of defense is in excellent hands. Senior Bobby Thalman, the team captain, has played 3061 of a possible 3185 minutes in goal in the last two years. Last fall, he was a second team All-Ivy selection after leading the league in save percentage (.852) and saves (92). Thalman has six career shutouts.

Sophomore Blake Brown and junior Sam Obletz are both capable backups.

The biggest improvement the Bulldogs made last year came on the offensive end. After scoring only 10 goals in all of 2010, Yale scored 24 goals a year ago, and should feature another potent offense this fall. Junior Peter Jacobson tied for fourth in the league with seven goals last year and earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition.

The offense also should benefit from the return of Scott Armbrust, who missed all of last season with an injury. Armbrust led the team with six goals as a freshman in 2009 and started a career-high 13 games as a sophomore. Junior Jenner Fox is also an experienced offensive threat. He started 15 games a year ago and was third on the team with 10 points (3 goals, four assists).

 Junior Cody Wilkins is still recovering from an injury and likely won't play this fall. Sophomore Peter Ambiel made tremendous progress last spring and could see time up front or on defense.

A trio of freshmen hope to make an impact up front. Keith Bond (Trumbull, Conn.) was an NSCAA All-New England selection as a senior at Trumbull High School. Avery Schwartz (Santa Barbara, Calif.) holds the Cate School record for goals in a season (38) and goals in a career (101). Mitch Wagner (Horseheads, N.Y.) was a Western New England Prep School all star at the Taft School.

Junior Max McKiernan returns to anchor the midfield. McKiernan was one of only four players to start all 17 games last year and was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection. He will have plenty of support. Senior Tony Wilbar has steadily improved during his time at Yale and should see time in both the midfield and on defense.

Sophomores Kevin Michalak and Conner Lachenbruch will play key roles in the midfield. Michalak played in 14 games as a rookie, while Lachenbruch had a strong finish to the season.

Senior Frank Shaw, who appeared in 16 games last year, also has experience in the midfield.

Freshman Lukas Czinger (Los Angeles, Calif.) was a two-time All-Mission League selection at the Harvard-Westlake School and adds depth.

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Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity