West heads Jays in right direction Johns Hopkins: Eric West has helped bring the Blue Jays to national prominence with his steady play and leadership, and he's been a record-setting surprise as a scorer.

October 21, 1997|By Mark Hoeflich | Mark Hoeflich,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

He has been steady and spectacular, displaying every bit of the ability Johns Hopkins men's soccer coach Matt Smith believed he possessed.

He has been a calming presence in a program that had staggered through consecutive losing seasons in 1991 and 1992.

But Eric West has become something more than the Blue Jays figured on at this point in his career. He has become the most prolific offensive player to ever come through the program, which began in 1935.

Beginning with his freshman season in 1994, when West set a single-season record with 22 goals, he has led the team in scoring for three straight seasons, along the way setting school records for career points (143), goals (59), assists (25) and points in a season (53).

Furthermore, since West arrived, Johns Hopkins has gone 58-12-4 (including this season's 10-2 record), the best winning percentage (.784) over any four-year span in the program's history.

"I've always thought of myself as someone who just tries to do their job well, not someone who gets all the attention I've gotten," said West, a senior who has seven goals and five assists this season.

Despite scoring nearly 80 goals during his high school career, West wasn't the most impressive player during his years at Cumberland Valley High in Pennsylvania. He wasn't highly recruited by any Division I schools.

But he quickly became the heart of Smith's first recruiting class.

"He was definitely our biggest priority in my first recruiting class," Smith said. "We needed someone to strengthen us up the middle and someone who knew how to win immediately. Actually, we never thought he'd be this good."

Although West is not the only reason for Hopkins' success, he is certainly one of the biggest. Not only has he been a stalwart in the Blue Jays' rise to national recognition -- they are ranked 25th in the latest Umbro poll -- but he also has left his mark as one of

the best players to ever come out of the Centennial Conference.

"We certainly wouldn't be where we are today without him," Smith said.

The past two seasons have been about more than statistics for West. Because opposing defenses are more geared toward stopping him, he has become more of a playmaker. He has created opportunities, particularly for Peter Quin, whose 89 career points (40 goals, nine assists) are second to West.

"It was hard at first to adjust to being marked more heavily, but I have others around me now to get the ball to," West said.

Said Smith: "He has gained a greater game sense. He's a tempo setter and understands his role is different game to game. It was important for us to get another scorer [Quin] to help Eric, and thus he is more of a complete player now."

However, it remains West's superb ability to finish that makes him most dangerous.

West said he knew all along that Hopkins was the right fit for him. His brother played basketball for the Blue Jays for three years, and West often attended his games. In the process, he became familiar with the Blue Jays athletic department and was lured by Smith's enthusiasm.

"It was a perfect opportunity for me with a new coach trying to build enthusiasm in the sport," West said. "When I first got to Hopkins, I didn't know the situation I was stepping into, but I was fortunate to step into a starting role."

By the end of that first season, it was more of a starring role for West. He was named Centennial Conference Player of the Year, and led the Blue Jays to their first national championship game, a 1-0 loss to Bethany, W.Va. He also propelled Johns Hopkins to two of its biggest wins, both over Muhlenberg, a traditionally strong Division III power.

During the 1994 regular season, West scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the then-No. 3 Mules before beating Muhlenberg again with the only goal in sudden-death overtime that put Johns Hopkins into the NCAA quarterfinal round.

"After the first win over Muhlenberg, I remember saying, 'Wow, this team is really good,' and that win set the tone for the rest of the season," West said.

"What he did in his first season just doesn't happen," said Smith. "Most freshmen have to adjust to the nature of college soccer, but he scored some big goals and really fit in well with the returning players."

Now, West wants one more shot at the national finals.

"As a senior, I definitely want that chance more, and each game now takes on an even greater significance," said West.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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