Aug. 27, 2008
After consecutive years in which a plague of injuries to key players has prevented Penn State from fulfilling its promise, the Nittany Lions enter the 2008 season looking to put the past behind them and restore the program to elite status within the Big Ten and nationally. Head coach Barry Gorman returns a core group of veterans that includes eight starters and 14 letterwinners for his 21st season at Penn State. Younger players will also play a deciding role in the team's fortunes, as 16 of the 27 players on the roster are underclassmen.
Even though First Team All-Big Ten forward Jason Yeisley and starting defender Andy Parr will miss the 2008 campaign while rehabbing knee injuries suffered last year, confidence is high and wills are steeled to make 2008 the year that Penn State returns to the pinnacle of collegiate soccer.
The senior class, made up of Ryan Badaracco, Andy Machi, and Barkley Miller, is small in numbers but large on character, heart, and potential.
Badaracco missed the entire 2007 season with a knee injury but is back at full strength and is determined to make up for lost time with a standout final season. His effort, energy, and leadership provide Gorman with a valued presence on and off the field.
Machi enjoyed his finest season as Nittany Lion in 2007, emerging as one of the team's most consistent forces. His worth lies in his versatility, as he has the ability to effectively fulfill a variety of roles.
Miller heads into his senior season aiming to turn promise into production. Armed with a powerful left foot that any coach would covet for his arsenal, he has flashed big-time ability in spots over the last three years. Gorman feels that if he can remain focused and be consistent, Miller could post the best numbers of his career.
With top scorer Yeisley likely on the shelf for the entire 2008 season, a fierce battle will be fought among a group of talented contenders for starting spots and for playing time.
Two players Gorman is counting on to step up and power the attack are sophomore Treavor Gelsinger and junior Jacobo Vera. In his freshman campaign, Gelsinger finished second on the team in points with 12 and lead the Nittany Lions with six assists. Physical and strong, he excels at keeping the ball and playing with his back to the goal. Vera netted four goals in 2007, the second highest on the team behind only Yeisley. At 6-0, 187 lbs., he is also blessed with good size and should be a force with which to be reckoned.
Junior Vincent Salvatico will also have every opportunity to emerge as a starter in 2008. He totaled eight points a year ago and tied for the team lead in game-winning goals.
Sophomore John Gray used his tremendous work ethic to make huge strides in the offseason and position himself for more playing time in 2008.
A trio of incoming players, freshmen Corey Hertzog and Patrick Krispin and sophomore transfer Dennis Sellis, will also challenge for minutes based on their ability to put the ball in the net. Hertzog totaled 107 goals during his high school career while Krispin is from the athlete-rich area of The Woodlands, Texas. As a freshman at Western Wyoming Community College, Sellis led the junior college ranks nationally with 79 points (34 goals,11 assists). If his game effectively translates to the Division I level, Penn State will have struck gold out west.
Led by 33-game career starter Badaracco, "the midfield is as talented as we have had here in a while," according to Gorman.
Senior Machi, a veteran of 38 games, will employ his no quit, die-hard attitude and approach to make an impact as a defensive midfielder. Freshman Matt Smallwood, who gained valuable experience by enrolling in the spring, will fulfill a similar role.
Attacking midfielders sophomore Drew Cost and junior Frank Costigliola will be key to Penn State's transition game and will be relied on for points. Cost, a unanimous All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection in 2007, came on strong at the end of the season a year ago, tallying two goals and three assists. Costigliola, a lightning quick and fiery competitor, had his best season in 2007, totaling three goals and three assists.
Newcomer Matheus Braga is a player to watch. He is an exciting midfielder with a shooter's mentality. Freshman MacKenzie Arment will provide the team with quality depth and another option in the midfield.
Headlining the Penn State defense in 2008 will be sophomore Andres Casais. Despite earning All-Big Ten Freshman team recognition last season, Casais is one of the best-kept secrets in the conference and in the nation. If he has the standout season he is capable of in 2008, that will no longer be the case.
Juniors Diego Correa and Bobby Bohlen and sophomore Casey Derkacz benefited from significant playing time last season and will look to build on that in 2008.
Freshmen Justin Lee, whom Gorman describes as an "exceptional talent," and Mark Fetrow, a strong and rangy central defender, will push for not only playing time but starts on the back line.
In 2008, for the first time in four years, 83 games, and 7,976 minutes someone other than Conrad Taylor will man the net for the Nittany Lions. The program's first-ever two-time First Team All-Big Ten goalkeeper leaves a large void to be filled, but returnees Liam Fitzwater and Warren Gross are capable heir apparents and will wage a pitched battle throughout the preseason for the starting spot.
Fitzwater, a redshirt sophomore, has yet to see regular season game action, but he has been the beneficiary of two years of tutelage by both Taylor and the Penn State coaching staff.
Gross, a redshirt freshman, has gained valuable playing experience the last two years by competing on the U-18 and U-20 U.S. National Teams.