CANTON -- The St. Lawrence men's soccer team will open the 2014 season this afternoon against SUNY Cortland in the first game of this year's Lotto Classic.
The Saints, who were projected as the Liberty League's top team in a conference poll earlier this week, were also ranked No. 7 in the NSCAA national preseason poll.
The team is coming off a 17-3-2 season in 2013, during which it captured the Liberty League regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament before falling in overtime to Amherst College.
The Saints lost just two players to graduation following last season, including All-American and Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year Andrew Bednarsky who led the Saints with 9 goals and 8 assists and 26 points, and with a core group of veterans returning, Head Coach Bob Durocher says the team is ahead of the curve.
"A lot of the guys have NCAA experience," he said. "They understand what the goal is ahead of time because they've been through it before. Part of the challenge is getting the first years to understand the system as soon as possible."
Among those with NCAA experience are captains Mark Provost and Dan Hunt. Provost, a senior midfielder who will wear No. 10 this season, is the Saints returning leading scorer from a year ago when he tallied six goals and nine assists for 21 points. Hunt, a junior back, was also one of the Saints top point-producers in 2013 and a Regional All-American selection, finishing second to Bednarsky in goals with seven.
"Mark and Dan are both well respected within the team," Durocher said. "They've given good messages throughout the preseason and helped with the chemistry early on. But true leadership and chemistry is tested when things aren't going as well as you expect them to. That will be what determines where this team is going to go."
Other top returners include: All-American goalkeeper and Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Costello; junior back Harry Copeland, who also took home Regional All-American honors after last season; and junior forward Morgan Smith, who was among the Saints leading scorers.
The Saints add eight newcomers to the roster this season, including seven first-year students and a junior transfer Edward Gonzalez who comes to St. Lawrence from American University (DI).
"The new guys have potential, but they still need to adjust to the speed of play and the system we run before they can make significant contributions," Durocher said. "Edward Gonzalez, Chandler Short and Kevin O'Neill are three guys that will likely see time quickly."
Following the Lotto Classic games against Cortland and Moravian (Saturday, 1 p.m.), the Saints have six straight non-conference road games before returning home to open conference play against Hobart on Sept. 27. All St. Lawrence home games during the 2014 season will be broadcast for free in HD.