UMBC takes winning ways with it to new conference

Retrievers' 4-0-3 record earns 1st in America East

Soccer

October 25, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Two things were certain about the UMBC men's soccer team before the season:

(a) It was talented and experienced with nine starters and 19 returning letter winners and a host of promising newcomers.

(b) It didn't know what it was getting into.

Entrance into the America East conference provided a mysterious edge after a five-year alliance with the Northeast Conference that brought the Retrievers a 35-9-5 league record, two regular-season titles and a 1999 appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament.

They were elevating in the college soccer hierarchy and there was some uncertainty where they fit in, particularly after preseason polls placed them sixth in America East.

"I had no idea about the new league except that it was rated higher," said coach Pete Caringi. "I didn't know the personnel. We're only finding out as we go through it."

Not to worry. Caringi's players have responded with a 4-0-3 America East record and a lead in the standings with 15 points entering today's 1 p.m. homecoming showdown with third-place Boston University (3-0-3 in the league) at UMBC. The winner gets a spot in the six-team conference tournament.

"We knew it was going to be competitive," said midfielder Mike Joseph (Calvert Hall). "We didn't know much about any of the teams but then, nobody knew much about us either. We just took the mentality that it doesn't matter what we hear."

"I think the fact that we were picked sixth bothered us a little bit," said midfielder Danny Mongello (Wilde Lake). "We expected it to be tough, but you just have to play every game all out."

"We expected to do well," said striker Derek McElligott (Grace Christian), who has 14 goals and leads the league and South Atlantic region in goals and points (30). "We knew we're looking into better competition and facilities, but everything we thought was going to happen has happened."

UMBC (9-1-5 overall) sports an eight-game unbeaten streak and seven shutouts by goalkeeper Andy Marchica. The only loss was to No. 4 and undefeated Old Dominion.

The Battle of Baltimore title in early September - reached with the school's first victory ever against Loyola - served as a catalyst for the success.

"That got us on the right track," said McElligott. "We really wanted to beat Loyola and Towson. It was definitely a confidence boost."

The players agree that the new league is better overall.

"I think the NEC is more athletic, with faster, stronger players," said Mike Pennacchia (Calvert Hall). "But the America East gets the job done better as a team."

Northeastern (which UMBC tied 2-2 in overtime) and Hartford (a 3-0 UMBC win) were called the strongest league foes so far.

"In the NEC the ball is kicked around more; in this league there is more passing," added Marco Angelini (Curley).

It hasn't been all good news for the Retrievers. Fullback and captain Justin Nall has had knee problems all season and midfielder Marcus Weekes is out for six games (dislocated toes).

The goal was simply to make the playoffs, but that has been raised. Now the Retrievers want the first or second seed, which means a first-round bye.

"This is our biggest game of the year," said Pennacchia. "We're getting the feel there's no reason not to finish first."

"We don't want to go into our last game on the road [at Maine] making it a must win," said Caringi. "But then, we've probably played better on the road. Last year it was tough to get psyched away from home."

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