A season ago, the Montgomery College men's soccer team had one of its finest seasons in program history. After winning the Region XX tournament, the Raptors finished in fourth place at the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division III national tournament.
But this fall, as with any two-year junior college that experiences annual roster turnover, third-year coach Pedro Braz must find chemistry within a new group of players.
“It's a totally new beginning,” said Braz, who guided the Raptors to a 22-3 record last fall. “There's only five sophomores out of 35 guys on the roster. So, there's going to be lot of growing pains and mistakes early on. Hopefully, we get all the kinks sorted out sooner than later.”
Montgomery College won its opening match, 7-0, on Monday against Patrick Henry College, but Braz said he was not pleased with the performance. The Raptors' men's and women's programs are scheduled to play their home games at the Maryland Soccerplex in Germantown.
“We have a lot of issues we need to fix,” he said. “We are inexperienced and young. ... We are talented enough, but pure talent doesn't get you to a national championship; smart play and a little luck does. We have a lot of work to do because, right now, our team play isn't that good.”
Braz's demands on his team highlight the expectations Montgomery College — a program that is known for its technical style of play — has developed. Silver Spring resident and Gambia native Gabriel Ndiaye returns as one of the nation's most dangerous forwards (35 goals, 9 assists last year). Fellow sophomore and center back Brandon McKoy should help bolster the defense and classmate Fabrice Mbah, a native of Cameroon, is expected to contribute from the midfield.
“Since I've been here our goal has always been to be a possession-orientated team and have a high soccer IQ,” Braz said. “We won't kick and run. … We want to keep the ball and emphasize dominating possession of the ball with controlled play.”
Montgomery College's women's soccer team (11-8) has equally high expectations this fall after losing in last year's Region XX District H tournament final, 1-0, to Howard Community College.
Third-year coach Brad Hartin believes he will field the largest (29 players) and deepest team during his tenure with the Raptors.
“Honestly, every year our expectations are to reach nationals,” he said. “... One of my goals is to make sure year in and year out we make the program a better quality and this year, we have the best [talent] we've had from a technical standpoint.”
Hartin said a 12-15 member freshman class should mesh well with the returning sophomores.
Sophomore defensive midfielder Katelyn Snyder and classmate and midfielder Ana Cordon (Montgomery Blair) are expected to lead the team this fall. Sophomore Shay McCafferty (Damascus) also returns to the program after a year away from the game.
“Pedro and I have worked together a lot and have a good partnership,” Hartin said. “These three years we've been here, we've made an effort to bring the programs together and we travel quite a bit together. I think it has really benefitted both of us.”
The Raptors are coming off a national tournament appearance — their second (2010, 2013) during coach Amir Mafinejad's seven-year tenure — but this year, success will likely depend on if they can find some height in the middle.
Montgomery College's tallest player is just 5-foot-10 so Mafinejad says his team may have to play a small lineup.
“We have a couple inexperience middles … but a pretty good supporting cast around them,” he said. “We are good passers and defenders.
“We had a losing record in September last year, but we improved so much as the season went on. I may be anticipating the same thing.”
Leading the Raptors should be sophomore Nicole Couturier (Covenant Life), who is entering her first year as the full-time setter. Classmate and high school teammate Ellie Wikner is scheduled to start at opposite hitter.
Freshman Katherine Liu (Winston Churchill) and sophomore Hiromi Konishi (Northwest) should provide offense from the outside. Freshman Natalie Speth (Seneca Valley) is expected to see playing time in the back row as the libero/defensive specialist. Freshman Jessica Nguyim (Blair) and sophomore Kapria Redparth (Takoma Academy) will compete for playing time in the middle.
For full schedules visit cms.montgomerycollege.edu/athletics