Young team will attempt to better a one-win season

Jim Martinho

After ending a 35-game winless streak that spanned two years, the Northwestern men’s soccer team will begin the 2002 season with a one-game winning streak.

The Wildcats’ 1-0 victory over Valparaiso on Nov. 11 was their first since the 1999 Big Ten tournament and marked the first win of head coach Tim Lenahan’s career at NU.

The Cats now head into Lenahan’s sophomore campaign without the burden of a winless streak and with a positive outlook, thanks in part to a heralded class of incoming freshmen.

“I don’t know about next year, but it was definitely a nice relief to get a win last year and not end the season winless,” sophomore midfielder Jeremy Cook said. “It will give us a little boost for next year, but it’s a completely different season.”

Despite the win over the Eagles, NU’s 2001 season was mostly a struggle as players acclimated themselves to Lenahan’s new system. The Cats finished the season 1-13-3, including a loss to Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. NU remained winless in the conference for the second straight year.

But the Cats did make some strides under Lenahan, who came to NU with the reputation for turning programs around after stints at Division III Richard Stockton and Division I Lafayette.

The Cats bettered the 2001 squad’s 0-17-1 record and lost seven games by just one goal. Three of those losses – to Western Illinois, Michigan State and Illinois-Chicago – came on goals in the last 10 minutes.

NU also benefited from Lenahan’s increased emphasis on defense, cutting the number of goals allowed in half from the 2000 season.

The win over Valparaiso was a coming out party for the Cats’ youngsters, as freshman goalie Ryan Pederson – who is leaving the soccer team to join the football squad in the fall – shut out the Eagles and fellow freshman Victor Boni scored the game-winning goal. Twelve freshmen saw playing time for NU in 2001, and they will be joined by as many newcomers in 2002.

Recruits like forward Eric Brin are expected to help the Cats’ attack, which was outshot 300-125 last season.

“Coach has always emphasized defense and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Cook said. “Our main focus is still defense, but we definitely need to bring more of a spark to the attack.”

The Cats return junior Steve Jedlinski, who led the team in assists with six, in addition to a freshman class that will benefit from a year under Lenahan’s system.

The gelling of the Cats veterans and freshmen will undoubtedly be a key if NU expects to improve on previous years.

“The older guys have only been in the system for a year, but we can tell them what we do know and give them the experience we have in the system,” junior defender Doug Gibson said. “That way it’ll be a lot more beneficial, but everyone is still learning.”

Gibson said the incoming freshmen will come to NU with the opportunity to create their own tradition – winning.

“These 12 guys are all coming from winning teams, so they don’t have any kind of bad history,” he said. “We’re a lot more positive, and we’re expecting more wins.”