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2016 Conf Previews: MAAC, MAC + MVC

Article Written by Travis Clark
Published: August 22, 2016

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

2015 Conference Honors
Conference Tournament Champion: Rider
Coach of the Year: Robert McCourt, Monmouth
Offensive Player of the Year: Marcos Nunez, Iona College
Defensive Player of the Year: David Acuna Camacho, Monmouth
Goalkeeper of the Year: Eric Klenofsky, Monmouth
Co-Rookies of the Year: Cameron Harr, Marist & Daniel Huertas, Iona College

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)
Monmouth (13-4-4, 7-0-3)
Rider (14-6-1, 6-3-1)
Iona College (10-7-3, 5-3-2)
Fairfield (6-6-6, 5-3-2)
Marist (7-9-2, 5-3-2)
Siena College (8-10-3, 5-4-1)
Canisius (8-9-1, 5-5)
Saint Peter's (7-9-2, 4-5-1)
Manhattan (4-11-2, 3-6-1)
Quinnipiac (2-11-6, 1-5-4)
Niagara (1-16-3, 0-9-1)

Once again Monmouth holds the slight edge on the rest of the pack heading into what should be another close race in the MAAC. Goalkeeper Eric Klenofsky is one of the premier pro prospects in goal, and he’ll backstop the Hawks at the back along with defender Zachary Pereira. Dave Nigro and Anderson Asiedu provide the attacking flair for the New Jersey program.

Monmouth doesn’t have to look too far away to see their rivals in the standings. Rider, which knocked off Monmouth in last year’s MAAC Conference Tournament to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament, will look to repeat the same feat in the regular season. Jose Aguinga and Christian Flath bolster the midfield.

Former coach James Hamilton earned the promotion to lead Iona College this fall, providing important continuity after 13-year veteran Fernando Barboto moved on to NJIT earlier this year. Sophomores Daniel Huertas and Marcos Nunez ensure that Hamilton will have plenty of talent to call upon as he looks to keep the program in the top half of the MAAC standings.

Hopes for a strong season at Fairfield falls on the shoulders of Angus Hastings and Dominic Marshall. The English duo earned second-team All-MAAC honors a year ago, as the latter scored seven goals to lead the Stags.

Seven starters are back for Siena College, which also welcomed a large influx of 13 newcomers to this year’s squad. Among the returners is Junior Rosero, who led the team in scoring back in 2015, while Alexander Tejera has shown flashes of being an attacking force in his two previous years at Siena.

Another team looking to improve from last season is Marist. Eight newcomers have joined the Red Foxes, which struggled outside of MAAC play, finishing 2-6 in non-conferences games. Cameron Harr is back to lead the team’s offense after scoring eight goals as a freshman in 2015.

One of the bright spots for Canisius last season was All-Rookie performer Melvin Blair. His six goals led the team, and he’ll be faced with even heavy lifting to do in the final third now that Alex De Carolis and Nicolo Baudo have graduated.

Saint Peter's midfield linchpin Luke Fairlamb is back in the fold, and he’ll look to keep feeding goals to junior forward Ezequiel Cei. If the pair can ramp up production in the attack, Saint Peter’s has a good chance of making a big jump in 2016.

Replacing First Team All-MAAC defender Abraham Bartoah is the big ask for the Jaspers, among the teams hoping to improve on-field results. Ajani Phillips’ form in preseason is encouraging, as he scored three times across two games. Finding more goals is a key for Manhattan’s chances after scoring only 16 goals a year ago.

Speaking of offensive production, both Quinnipiac and Niagara need a jolt in the final third. Both programs scored just 16 goals apiece during the course of the 2015 season. Last fall’s struggles led to Niagara appointing Bill Boyle as the new head coach. The former Albany assistant is well-versed in soccer in New York and Canada, which should help the Purple Eagles improve quickly.

 Mid-American Conference

2015 Conference Honors
Conference Tournament Champion: Akron
Player of the Year: Russell Cicerone, Buffalo
Freshman of the Year: Kevin Rodriguez, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Chad Wiseman, Western Michigan

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)
Akron (18-3-3, 4-01)
Western Michigan (11-4-4, 3-1-1)
Buffalo (8-7-4, 2-2-1)
West Virginia (7-12, 2-3)
Northern Illinois (7-7-1, 1-3-1)
Bowling Green (9-9-1, 1-4)

Deep, experienced and talented, Akron will once again wear a target on its back in both league and tournament play. Adam Najem considered turning pro, though elected to return and brings his creative spark back to the team’s midfield. The Zips brought in an impressive recruiting class, despite Emmanuel Sabbi’s late decision to forego college soccer for pro opportunities. Sabbi’s decision leaves perhaps the only doubt about Akron’s season in the goal-scoring department, as the team lacks a reliable, clinical finisher. Junior forward Stuart Holthusen has potential to fill that void, while incoming freshman Jonathan Lewis will see time up front. There's little doubt that Akron should be among the nation's elite once again.

Provided Western Michigan can cope with departures of its three leading scorers, contending for a first place finish in the MAC isn’t out of the question. The team’s defense was one of its strengths in 2015, conceding only 10 goals in 18 games, meaning if they fail to replace Nick Wysong’s goals, success can once again start from the back.

Fresh off a PDL Championship with the Michigan Bucks, the reigning Player of the Year Russell Cicerone is back for his final season at Buffalo. A hat trick in an exhibition is a good sign that the attacker is ready to lead the charge one last time, and make a run at knocking off Akron. Midfielder Russell Culver emerged as a reliable midfield option last fall, and will look to continue to do so this season.

A big freshmen class will look to boost West Virginia back into the MAC conversation and the NCAA Tournament. Sporting KC Academy alum Joey Piatczyc has shown the ability to serve as a tremendous creator, setting up 19 goals in just 29 college games over the past two seasons.

Both Northern Illinois and Bowling Green are fresh off interesting seasons, with  as many wins as loses, and just one win in the conference for each program. The Falcons bring back eight starters from the 2015 team, and finished with 14 wins the year prior to that. Defender Luke Read, who led NIU in scoring a season ago, is back and will be a crucial figure once again.

Missouri Valley Conference

2015 Conference Honors
Conference Tournament Champion: Drake
Players of the Year : Eric Schoendorf, Loyola-Chicago
Defensive Player of the Year: Eric Schoendorf, Loyola-Chicago
Goalkeeper of the Year: Tim Dobrowolski, Loyola-Chicago
Freshman of the Year: Frank Bak, Bradley
Coaching staff of the Year: SIUE

Teams (2015 overall, conference record)
SIUE (12-4-2, 5-1)
Bradley (7-10-1, 4-1-1)
Drake (13-5-3, 3-1-2)
Missouri State (6-6-5, 3-2-1)
Loyola-Chicago (10-4-5, 2-2-2)
Central Arkansas (2-15-1, 1-5)
Evansville (3-13, 0-6)

After capturing if first regular season MVC title, SIUE returns eight starters from last year’s successful squad. Making a run to the NCAA Tournament has to at the forefront of most of the group, including top scorer Devyn Jambga. Austin Ledbetter anchors the defense at the back, while Kyle Del Santo is an underrated option in goal.

It was an interesting season for Bradley, which picked things up in the conference portion of the schedule to win four of its six MVC games. Only five starters are back from that team, though reigning Conference Freshman of the Year Frank Bak will be looking to build on his strong start.

Looking to knock SIUE off the regular season summit, Drake has a loaded group that will be eyeing more than just a conference crown this year. Mueng Sunday and James Wypych provide senior leadership and quality, while goalkeeper Darren MacLeod also returns.

Jack Buckle and Jack Griffin are two key returners for Missouri State, which returns nine of its starters from last year’s team. The Bears will host this year’s championship, and that is certainly to be a driving force as the season picks up the pace later in the fall.

Loyola-Chicago has gaping holes to fill losing both the Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year. Turning towards its offense could be an answer, with the likes of Fabian Lifka, Elliot Collier and Kyle Thomson adding experience to the team’s attack.

Quick turnarounds are never too far away in college soccer, and that is the primary focus for Central Arkansas and Evansville, which mustered just a single conference win between the two of them. The former has 10 starters back for this season, while head coach Marshall Ray enters his second season in charge of Evansville.

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