On any given night, when the men’s soccer team faces off against an opposing school, it isn’t the noise of the loud speaker that first catches the crowd’s attention. Instead, it is junior goalie Michael Peacock’s voice. The Pittsford native’s impressive shouts instructing his team on what to do when the ball is at the other end of the pitch, coupled with his solid performance between the pipes, has been key to UR’s 3-0-2 start thus far this season.

But Peacock is not the only reason the ‘Jackets have given up only one goal in five games. With All-American Nick Mikolenko ’08 and four-year starter Eric Meister ’08 both bidding UR farewell last spring, there were serious questions about where the leadership would come from defensively. UR’s back line of defense, however, has been superb thus far most notably, senior Jeremy Gaden, junior Phil Proud and sophomore Misha Carrel-Thomas and the team as a whole has really embraced the idea of defense first.
‘I believe the main reason that we have been successful defensively is because we all play very well together, and we all trust each other,” Peacock said. ‘All three guys in the back offer great leadership to the rest of the team through example and how they carry themselves.”

The ‘Jackets kicked off their season two weekends ago, hosting SUNY Oswego in the opening round of the Flower City Tournament. While Oswego posed little threat to UR the ‘Jackets held a 21-3 shot advantage en route to a 2-0 victory the game was a good warm-up for a second-round match against SUNY Cortland two days later. The Red Dragons of Cortland have proved to consistently be among the region’s best teams. Last year, Cortland handed UR its only home loss of the season.

This season, however, the two teams battled for 110 minutes, but neither was able to execute offensively, and the game finished in a scoreless tie.

‘We talked about the mentality you need to have around [your opponent’s] goal, and we have worked on it in training,” head coach Chris Apple said. ‘This is one of the most challenging and elusive parts of our sport.”

The Yellowjackets had a number of chances against the Dragons and controlled the field for most of the game. Sophomore midfielder Steve Welles had a number of crosses into the box that UR was unable to capitalize on. Welles has looked particularly dominant this season on the right side of the midfield and was named Best Offensive Player for the tournament due to his goal and assist in the match against Oswego.

A number of other scoring opportunities fell just short for the ‘Jackets throughout the game. Midway through the first period, a long ball played into the box by Proud was tipped at the last second by Cortland’s senior goalkeeper Jack Carillo, hit the crossbar and was safely cleared by the Dragon defenders.

Perhaps UR’s best chance to score came in the first overtime, when freshman forward Josh Biegel crossed a ball into the box for junior forward J.J. Dennstedt, whose shot was blocked out of bounds by a diving Carillo.

On the defensive side of the ball, the ‘Jackets were particularly sharp. The defense did a good job of containing Dragon’s senior forward Bryan Patterson, who scored 14 goals last season to lead Cortland’s offense and who, at 6-foot-6-inches, had a significant size advantage over UR’s defenders.

Peacock played well in net, although he saw few shots, as the Yellowjackets were able to control play for most of the day. He finished the game with three saves.

Last Friday night, the UR defense was again staunch in a match-up against the 2007 Liberty League Champion St. Lawrence University Saints, and the ‘Jackets were able to dominate the Saints up and down the field on their way to a 3-0 victory. Peacock had five saves, broke up a number of scoring chances and got help from the goal post twice in 90 minutes of play to preserve the shutout for the ‘Jackets. He was recognized for his efforts with University Athletic Association Athlete of the Week honors.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was all about execution, beginning with Dennstedt, who scored two goals to lead UR in the win.The junior has been a leader up top this season especially with junior forward Scott Cady out for at least the non-conference schedule and nowhere was that more obvious than in front of the 1,518 people in the stands at Fauver Stadium on Friday night.

The game was the first event in a new initiative by the Students’ Association called ‘Fill Fauver,” which hopes to increase student involvement in supporting UR athletics.
The crowd was the largest crowd the stadium has seen in eight years and Apple said that this was a huge factor in UR’s play.

‘I want to say a huge thank you to the student body for your amazing support on Friday night,” Apple said. ‘The energy that was brought to Fauver Stadium inspired our squad to play our best soccer of the season so far.”

Dennstedt kicked off the scoring early in the game when he received a feed from Beigel and was able to lob the ball over St. Lawrence’s senior keeper Emilio Coletta and into the net. UR’s second came early in the second period, when Dennstedt finished off senior midfielder Sean Hante’s cross into the box. Junior Cliff White added extra insurance of a ‘Jacket victory with 10 minutes remaining in the game, netting the ball into the top corner of the goal off of a rebounded shot.

It was the first game in which UR’s offense ran efficiently and really capitalized on its opportunities. On the following day, the ‘Jackets battled Clarkson University to a 0-0 decision to notch another tie for the season. Again, UR controlled possession and played well as a unit defensively, but was unable to effectively work the ball up the field and finish on any of its 23 shots.

‘We need to continue to improve in terms of our ball movement and we have been working on polishing our restarts,” Apple said. ‘Overall though, the attitude and work ethic has been great, and we are playing attacking soccer. If we focus on quality performances, the results will take care of themselves.”

UR put up two more goals against St. John Fisher College en route to a 2-1 victory last night. This time, it was Hantes for the ‘Jackets offensively. The senior scored both goals the first one coming midway through the first and the second score putting the game out of reach in the 86th minute. Hantes has three goals on the season and has offered leadership both offensively and defensively for UR.

The ‘Jackets lone game next week is on Tuesday, when they take on the Golden Flyers of Nazareth College in Fauver at 7 p.m.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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