Aug. 22, 2006
By all accounts, the 2005 season was a special one. Penn State made history when it went undefeated and untied in conference play and secured its first-ever Big Ten Regular Season Championship. It etched its name in the Penn State record book when it became the only men's team to win both the Big Ten Regular Season Championship and Big Ten Championship in the same year. It gained further distinction by becoming the first Penn State men's team to claim a third Big Ten Championship when it defeated Indiana for the second time in one season, a feat accomplished by no other Big Ten team. In 2006, nine of 11 starters and 15 letterwinners who helped advance the Nittany Lions to the third round of the NCAA Championship last year return with the determined mindset to further make their historical mark and to maintain their place among the nation's elite collegiate programs.
Reuniting in 2006 to again form one of the most potent offensive forces in the nation is the lightning and thunder combination of Simon Omekanda and Jason Yeisley. Omekanda, a senior, supplies the lightning, utilizing his speed quickness, balance, and agility to defeat defenders. A threat to score any time he possesses the ball around net, the first team All-Big Ten and NSCAA All-Mid-Atlantic Region selection tied a career high by scoring six goals in 2005. Omekanda also used his proficient passing ability and unselfish approach to register a team-high nine assists a year ago while moving into a sixth-place tie on Penn State's career assists list.
Yeisley contributes the thunder to the Penn State frontline, drawing on his uncommon strength and power to add punch to the offense. The 6-1, 185 lb. Yeisley rapidly developed into an intimidating force around goal, helping him put together an outstanding freshman campaign. The Allentown, Pa. native led the Nittany Lions with nine goals and 24 points en route to earning second team All-Big Ten and All-Big Ten freshman team honors. He also demonstrated an exceptional knack for coming through in the clutch, scoring a team-high four game-winning goals, including tallying the decisive goal in both victories over Indiana.
Christoph Ascherl blossomed into a viable offensive option in his rookie season. A starter of 15 games, the German-American product scored one goal and notched three assists to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman squad. He will be given a greater opportunity to utilize his strengths and become more of an attacking force in 2006.
Freshman Jacobo Vera, an import from Pamplona, Spain, is a pure scorer and excellent finisher who will add variety to the attacking options.
With All-Big Ten performers and 2005 co-captains Brian Devlin and David Walters lost to graduation, the midfield is an area where unanswered questions may exist. However, the talent resides on the roster for the midfield to quickly become a strength rather than an uncertainty.
Senior Jeff Chambers returns to anchor the unit coming off his finest season as a Nittany Lion. Chambers flourished in 2005, improving with each game to finish tied for third on the team with 10 points. One of the pleasant surprises of 2005, Ryan Badaracco showed continual improvement throughout his sophomore season, earning 13 starts by year's end. The unselfish, unassuming sophomore will undoubtedly be a midfield fixture throughout the 2006 campaign. Barkley Miller, who started five games in 2005, will be counted on to further improve and make his mark in his sophomore season.
A group of newcomers, led by junior transfer Chris Germani, will also push for playing time. Germani, a Pennsylvania native, comes to Penn State from North Carolina where injuries derailed his Tar Heel career. Fully healed and rehabbed, look for the former national under 17 player to be a factor in the midfield in 2006. A gifted group of freshman midfielders that includes Frank Costigliola, Vincent Salvatico, Alex Wentzel, and Brazilian Daniel Martini will have every opportunity to step forward and make a difference in their first season of collegiate soccer.
All four starters return from a defense that held 10 opponents scoreless and allowed just .078 goals per game in 2005. Headlining the group is senior Markku Viitanen. A second team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, Viitanen's leadership and experience gained from starting 47 career games will be a key to the unit's success.
David Gray, Geordie MacNeill, and Stephen Reihner will combine with Viitanen to form one of the top defensive units in the nation in 2006. Gray is a hard-working senior who gets by on guile and guts. MacNeill, a junior, is adept at using his 6-2, 180 lb. frame to outduel opponents for the ball. Reihner is a hard-nosed defender with serious offensive capabilities. In 2005, the sophomore netted one goal and tallied three assists from the right back spot.
Quality depth is also available with four players ready to challenge for starting positions: junior Grady Renfrow, a six-game starter last season, and sophomores Andy Machi and Michael Janov will vie for defensive slots. Freshman Robert Bohlen, Andrew Parr, and Nathan Scott could also see meaningful playing time.
The first Nittany Lion goalkeeper to earn first team All-Big Ten honors, Conrad Taylor is poised to take his place among Penn State's all-time netminding greats. After just two seasons between the pipes, he has already firmly etched his name into the Penn State record book. In 2005, Taylor tied the program mark for shutouts in a season, recording 10. He also currently resides in second place in career goalkeeping with a .904 goals against average and in fifth place in career shutouts with 18. Taylor's durability is among his greatest assets, as the junior has started 44 consecutive games and logged every available minute in goal since the first game of his freshman season.
Redshirt freshman Michael Tilatti and true freshman Liam Fitzwater will supply depth at the position and back up Taylor.