Setting the Scene (Friday, Aug. 25 – 7 p.m. – First 500 fans receive free t-shirts!)
What: St. Bonaventure (0-0, 0-0 A-10) at Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 PL)
Where: Emmitt Field (Lewisburg, Pa.)
Live Stats: BucknellBison.com
Watch Live: Patriot League Network
(Sunday, Aug. 27 – 5 p.m.)
What: Saint Francis (Pa.) (0-0, 0-0 NEC) at Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 PL)
Where: Emmitt Field (Lewisburg, Pa.)
Live Stats: BucknellBison.com
About the Bison
• Bucknell kicks off its 88th season of varsity men's soccer with a pair of home games this weekend against St. Bonaventure and Saint Francis (Pa.).
• Bucknell finished 7-11-3 overall and 4-4-1 in the Patriot League a year ago. The Bison qualified for the Patriot League Tournament as the No. 5 seed and knocked off Boston University in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals, then fell at No. 1 American 2-1 in double-overtime the semis. The semifinal loss was a heartbreaker, as American tied the game with 2:31 left in regulation and won it 2:22 into the second overtime period.
• The Bison must replace a pair of All-Patriot League and All-Region players in forward Sebastiaan Blickman and center back Zack Rockmore. Blickman led the Patriot League in goals (11) and points (26) last year. Bucknell does return an all-conference player in sophomore midfielder Nick King, who tallied four goals and seven assists as a rookie in 2016.
• Junior Ryan Ott is expected to be the starting goalkeeper. An injury kept Ott out of the lineup until late October last season, but he started the final five games and performed well. He made a big save in penalty kicks to help the Bison through in the PL quarterfinals against Boston University, and he had eight saves in the semifinal loss to American. Ott was named to the Patriot League All-Tournament Team.
• Brendan Nash is starting his 19th season as Bucknell's head coach and his 22nd as a member of the Bison coaching staff. His predecessor, Craig Reynolds, patrolled the sideline for 32 years, meaning Bucknell has had only two men's soccer head coaches over the last 50 years. Nash's 167 wins are second all-time to Reynolds' 238, but Nash's .535 winning percentage is No. 1 in program history. He has guided the Bison to four Patriot League titles in the last 11 years.
Scouting St. Bonaventure
• The Bonnies finished 4-12-2 overall and 3-4-1 in the Atlantic 10 last season. They scored 11 goals and conceded 38, but did defeat Dayton, Davidson and George Washington in A10 play after winning just one conference game the previous year.
• St. Bonaventure returns 20 players from last year's roster, including top goal-scorer Kieran Toland (4), and Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selection Paul Afful.
• Goalkeeper Luke Iocobellis returns for his junior season after stopping 60 shots and recording two clean sheets in 11 starts last year.
• Head coach Kwame Oduro is in his third season at the helm of the Bonnies. Oduro is a 2007 graduate of Niagara and a former team captain for the Purple Eagles.
Series History with St. Bonaventure
• This will be the fifth all-time meeting between the Bison and Bonnies. Each team has a win and there have been two draws in the series.
• The teams played to a 2-2 draw in the first meeting in Lewisburg in 1965, and the following year St. Bonaventure won 3-1 in Olean, N.Y. Bucknell won 3-1 at home in 2006, and then last season's match finished in a 1-1 draw back in Olean.
• In last year's game, also played on the opening weekend of the season, Nick King scored his first collegiate goal 31 minutes into the match to give Bucknell a 1-0 lead, but after a hand-ball in the box, Kieran Toland converted a penalty kick with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to draw St. Bonaventure level.
Scouting Saint Francis (Pa.)
• The Red Flash open their 2017 season at Duquesne on Friday before traveling back across the state to face the Bison at Emmitt Field on Sunday evening.
• Saint Francis was picked No. 2 in the Northeast Conference preseason poll. It was picked behind St. Francis Brooklyn, who defeated the Red Flash 1-0 in overtime in last year's NEC Tournament final.
• Saint Francis finished 12-6-2 overall and 4-1-2 in the NEC last year. The squad was terrific defensively, posting 11 shutouts behind veteran goalkeeper Marcus Rojas, who enters his final year as the program's all-time leader with a 0.69 goals against average. They do have to replace both starting center backs, however, who were both First Team All-NEC selections.
• Mario Mastrangelo is the team's top returning scorer. He tallied four goals last season and has 14 career goals.
Series History with Saint Francis (Pa.)
• Bucknell has a 10-7-2 lead in an all-time series that dates back to 1997. The Red Flash have won two straight and three of the last four, however.
• Bucknell is 6-2-1 at home in the series, but the Red Flash have won the last two games in Lewisburg in 2013 and 2015.
• Saint Francis scored all of its goals in the second half in a 3-0 win in Loretto last season.
• Following this weekend's action, the Bison will have a week off before taking on Stetson in DeLand, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 3.
Here is a more in-depth season preview of the Bison men's soccer team:
2017 Men’s Soccer Preview
Brendan Nash’s recent Bucknell teams have always been resourceful when it comes to finding ways to score goals. Whether it is utilizing talented strikers like Brendan Burgdorf and Jesse Klug, playing through skilled central midfielders such as Connor O’Brien and Chris Thorsheim, or targeting set-pieces toward big, athletic defenders like Ross Liberati and Mayowa Alli, the Bison have long been one of the Patriot League’s most consistent scoring teams. In fact, over the last 10 years, spanning 204 games, the Bison have only been shut out 37 times.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, however, Nash lists goal-scoring as his chief concern. The team graduated Sebastiaan Blickman, a former defensive midfielder who converted to forward last year and surprised many by leading the conference in goals (11) and points (26). This year, with a young roster in tow, Nash will be using the preseason and non-conference portion of the schedule to identify his best options in the attacking third of the field.
“Forward is a position that we have been privileged to have some terrific goal-scorers through the years, but a big question mark heading into this season is where the goals are going to come from,” said Nash. “We’re going to try different formation and different combinations, and we are going to have to figure out if our best opportunities are coming through counter attacks, through the run of play or through restarts.”
Fortunately, Nash feels that he has a solid defensive corps that can hold the fort while the goal-scoring questions get resolved.
It starts in the back with junior goalkeeper Ryan Ott, an athletic 6’5” netminder who enters a season as a starter for the first time. Ott apprenticed under two talented seniors in Mike Lansing and Clarke Fox in 2015, but an offseason knee injury derailed his opportunity to take over as the No. 1 keeper last season. He returned to the field in late October, started five important games down the stretch, and tallied 30 saves with six goals against. Ott posted a six-save clean sheet in a 1-0 win over league-leading Loyola in his first game back, and he also presided over a victory over Army West Point in the regular-season finale and made a big save in penalty kicks in a shootout victory over Boston University in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals.
“Ryan really came on strong once he was healthy last year,” said Nash. “He doesn’t wear a brace anymore, and he is very confident heading into the season.
The Bison have plenty of depth at the goalkeeper position, with four on the roster. Sophomore Emmett Witmer is the most experienced of the reserves. He started 10 games and played in 11 a year ago, posting a 1.38 goals-against average and shutouts over Fairleigh Dickinson and Howard. Sophomore Jonathan Baxter and freshman Nicholas Cerrigone round out the unit.
Despite the graduation of three-time All-Patriot League center back Zack Rockmore, Nash feels he has a deep and talented group of defenders. He has four natural center backs in juniors Tyler Peterson and Dany Teran, sophomore Quinn Bredin, and freshman Eamon O'Connor. One of those four will likely move to one of the outside back spots, opposite promising freshman Stefan Gollisz.
Peterson is the most experienced of the group. He started next to Rockmore in each of his first two seasons at Bucknell, has logged 32 games, and has made an all-tournament team in each season so far. Bredin, a Canadian who played and studied in England for three years prior to coming to Bucknell, started 18 games for the Bison as a freshman last season and scored a huge goal against Boston University in the postseason. Teran started 13 games last season and picked up three assists.
“Our back line is going to be very important this year,” said Nash. “We have a lot of center backs. We just have to figure out what the best combination of two will be, and then build from there. This group has a chance to be very good, we just need to have the right chemistry by the time Patriot League play gets here.”
Nash feels that the strength of the team is its central midfielders. Sophomore Nick King, the latest in a long line of talented number-eights for the Bison, earned Third Team All-Patriot League honors after tallying four goals and seven assists as a rookie last season. Classmate Patrick Mahoney also started as a freshman in 2016 and tossed in three goals; senior Jack Zollicoffer brings plenty of size and experience; and newcomer Matt Thorsheim -- the younger brother of former Bison star Chris Thorsheim -- is expected to start right away.
“Nick King was all-conference as a freshman, which means the rest of the league has respect for him,” said Nash. “He has the ability to set up his teammates and score, and he is someone we might look to play farther up the field this year. We will look to put Matt Thorsheim in spots where he can be most effective, whether it is as an attacking center mid, a withdrawn forward or more of a defensive center mid. Overall we like the skill and depth at that position.”
The Bison will take a committee approach to the outside midfield position, with Wright, sophomore Daniel Hallowell and freshman Jokubas Uznys on the left side, and Bank, Hallowell, Krystman, senior Ben Derleth and sophomore Ari Rosenzweig working on the right flank.
“Each of those guys brings different elements to the game, and we won’t hesitate to use any of them depending on matchups,” said Nash.
It will be from among that deep pool of midfielders that Nash will attempt to cultivate a true forward. Faced with a similar dilemma last year, he struck gold with Blickman’s move up top. This year, the early non-league contests will be vital laboratories for the coaching staff to find the right combinations.
“We have such a young team, we really have to form an identity and find out who we are,” said Nash. “We have been working on that in the preseason, and it is not going to be an overnight process. It’s a season-long process, and hopefully at the end of the season we will be positioned where we need to be.”
After scrimmaging UMBC and Seton Hall, the Bison open the season with three of their first four games at home, including St. Bonaventure and Saint Francis (Pa.) on opening weekend. Bucknell also hosts Duquesne and has road tests against Stetson, Robert Morris and Saint Peter’s before starting Patriot League play on Sept. 23 at Lafayette.
This is a season where the Bison have four conference games at home and five on the road, as they look to earn a top-six placement and a berth in the Patriot League Tournament. Bucknell has captured four of the last 11 Patriot League titles, with the most recent coming in 2014 when the current group were freshmen.
The Bison have only missed out on the postseason twice in that 11-year span, and despite having one of its youngest teams of the Nash era, this group will be driven to carry on that tradition of success.