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Men hope to rebound from dismal year


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Published 2005-08-24T00:00:00Z”/>

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Laurence Tognetti<br>Staff Writer

There were only 200 soccer fans in attendance when the Wildcat men’s soccer team competed in the 2003 National Championship in Virginia Beach, Va. The Wildcats ended up losing to top-ranked Lynn University 2-1, a mere two goals away from making history. The team has not forgotten what it took to get to that national recognition.

The Wildcats went into the 2004 season with high hopes of defending their California Collegiate Athletic Association title. Instead, the team suffered a cataclysmic 6-10-4 record after going 19-4-1 just one year before. This year, with help from veteran captain Spencer Stanton, senior Michael Elenz-Martin, and juniors Kurt Murin and Jason Phillips, the Wildcats hope to once again capture the national spotlight.

“We have a lot of talent, work rate, and ethic,” said head coach Mike O’Malley. “We can have the goal of making the playoffs.”

O’Malley starts his 10th season as Wildcat head coach and boasts a 95-80-8 record since 1996. Although the team lost many seniors during the offseason, including Chris Wondolowski, who was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes, the team has what it takes to make it back to the national championship, O’Malley said.

“We’re not going to replace Chris,” O’Malley said, “but we’ll do our best to substitute his stats.”

The defense this year is bigger, stronger, faster and more aggressive than last year’s, O’Malley said. The midfield has a few new looks to it as well, and the entire team is working hard to get back to the form it had in 2003.

“These guys work hard enough that they deserve a successful season,” O’Malley said.

Spencer Stanton was with the team when it went to the national championship in 2003 and has played for four years at Chico. He said it will take a lot of hard work and mental toughness if the team is going to go far this season.

“If everything goes right with the squad we have, we should be in the national title game,” Stanton said. “I don’t think there’s any weak spots on our roster.”

Close games are a huge reason behind the team’s horrendous turnaround between 2003 and 2004, Stanton said. The team shows a lot of potential, and he is looking forward to a good season.

“We pulled a lot of one-goal games into wins in 2003,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t.”

Stanton does not think Wondolowski’s departure will have a huge effect on the team.

“One player’s performance doesn’t have as big of an effect as you think it would,” Stanton said. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us.”

Along with Stanton, central defender Elenz-Martin and midfielder Phillips think the first few games of the season will determine where the team stands. Chico will have to face Seattle Pacific University and Seattle University in the first two weeks, with Seattle University currently ranked No. 2 in the nation and out to defend its national title.

The team’s goal is to make the playoffs, Phillips said. There are still a lot of new players with something to prove, but it’s easier to mold new guys into what the team wants for itself.

Murin said it’s important how the team plays together and how the players mesh on the field. He’s not too worried about the team’s performance, despite Wondolowski’s loss.

“When you have a star player, and it comes down to crunch time, you rely on that one guy,” he said, “whereas if you have 11 solid players, you’re all working hard, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

The team looks ready to go for Aug. 25, the home opener against Seattle Pacific.

Elenz-Martin is very excited about the upcoming season and said the ‘Cats can manage another drastic turnaround — only this time, in the right direction.

“We’ll be ready for the season.”

Laurence Tognetti can be reached at

<a href= “mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]</a>

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        Men hope to rebound from dismal year