New Coach, and New Era for Green
Dartmouth College men's soccer coach Chad Riley speaks to his team at halftime of an Aug. 28 scrimmage with visiting McGill. Riley takes over for longtime predecessor Jeff Cook this season. Valley News - Tris Wykes
Dartmouth College's Stefan Defregger soars over a sliding McGill defender during the teams' Aug. 28 scrimmage at Burnham Field. Valley News - Tris Wykes
Hanover — Meet the new boss. Hopefully overseeing similar results as the old boss.
That’s the hope of the Dartmouth College men’s soccer team, which embarks this week on its initial campaign under coach Chad Riley, a Big Green assistant last season. Jeff Cook, head man during the previous 12 seasons, left in the spring for a job developing young players with the Philadelphia Union MLS franchise. So it’s now Riley’s show, and the wraps come off Saturday night against visiting Holy Cross (0-2).
“You always feel better when you had good mentors,” said Riley, 32, a former star forward at Notre Dame who spent six years assisting former Dartmouth coach Bobby Clark at his alma mater. “I’d feel nervous if I was being asked to design a space ship, but coaching is something I’ve done and enjoyed the last 14 or 15 years.
“As a team, we embrace the uncertainty, because you know you’ve prepared and you trust each other. Those butterflies, when you’re out of season, you miss them.”
The nervous intensity may be ratcheted up a notch, however, with the recent departure of fifth-year senior Kevin Dzierzawski, who signed with a Scottish pro team last month. A first-team All-Ivy League selection and a Big Green captain last year, Dzierzawski was Dartmouth’s playmaking engine and an experienced and passionate competitor. His absence is likely to be felt early in the season and perhaps all fall.
“It was out of the blue for us and him, too,’’ said Riley, whose team also lost four seniors to graduation, three of them significant contributors. “I think he wanted to just go and train and get his name out there a bit, but the team just really fell in love with him and he felt it was the right opportunity. It’s obviously a big loss, but any time someone’s dream comes true, you’re happy about that.”
Another missing piece is goalkeeper Noah Cohen, who completed his third year of eligibility last fall and had an appeal for a fourth denied by the NCAA during the winter. Riley said that decision was related to a team Cohen played for in his native South Africa before arriving at Dartmouth. The Big Green is left with sophomore Stefan Cleveland, who didn’t see game action as a freshman, and rookies Jett Oristaglio and James Hickok.
Riley said he’s focused a little more attention on the defense in recent weeks, but senior Colin Skelly, who anchors the back line, said his team won’t change its style in deference to an untested netminder.
“You deal with what you have and you have your plan and you go out and do it,” said Skelly, who helped Dartmouth limit 2012 opponents to 20 goals while the Big Green scored 25.
Also missing this season will be junior midfielder Eric Jayne, who is in Africa and engaged in humanitarian work. The former Hanover High standout played in 13 games last season and started seven. Riley said he’s hopeful Jayne will return to the team next year.
Dartmouth was 9-7 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League, good for a second-place finish. The program claimed five league crowns and reached the NCAA tournament seven times in eight years under Cook, although it fell short in 2012.
Skelly said Riley’s more recent playing experience and his creativity in utilizing players in ways that accentuate their strengths have helped make the transition easy.
“He likes to keep things concise, but he gives us a lot of responsibility,” Skelly said. “He’s been here for a year and he knows enough to help us not only keep the standard high, but to raise it.”
Expected to carry the offensive load this fall are junior striker Alex Adelabu, senior midfielder Colin Heffron and junior Andoni Georgiou, who swings between both positions. Adelabu, who earned all-region honors, led the team with nine goals last season, and the other two produced six points each. Senior striker Patrick Murray had three goals last fall, and although junior Stefan Defregger didn’t have a point in 2012, the Gilford, N.H., product could be in line for a breakout year.
Riley enjoyed watching his team score a combined nine goals in scrimmages against McGill and Franklin Pierce, but the competition takes a step up against Holy Cross and, two days later, visiting Boston College. The nonconference schedule isn’t as formidable as it’s been in recent years, so the beginnings of a true judgement on Riley may have to wait until the Ivy League slate opens early next month.
“There are the same high standards, the same expectations of winning the Ivy League and getting into the NCAA tournament,” Skelly said. “Our expectation is to make it to the NCAA tournament, and we have to realize that we can’t take a game off and lose to teams that we should beat.”
Said Riley: “My biggest positive from the preseason is the effort and unity we’ve shown. We’ve played with conviction and over time, you build an identity, both as a team and as a coach. It’s nothing you focus on, but I’m sure the differences from last year will show as time goes on.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.