Rebel Soccer Ready To Invade MPSF
July 30, 1999
LAS VEGAS - With eight starters back from last season, the UNLV mens soccer team is ready to invade the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The Rebels, who spent four seasons in the MPSF from 1992-95, return to their former conference after a three-year stint in the Western Athletic Conference.
",Weve been playing most of those (MPSF) teams anyway,", says Rebel head coach Barry Barto, who with more than 250 career victories is the winningest coach in Rebel soccer history. ",This is a stronger conference, but there are no significant changes for us. In fact, now those better teams are built into the schedule, so we only traded good for good.",
The Rebels closed 1998 with a 7-11-0 record, an improvement over the previous couple years. But with the eight returning starters, another nine returning letterwinners and an exciting recruiting class, you can see why things are buzzing around the UNLV mens soccer program.
The forward line may be the Rebels strongest, with three returning strikers that each bring the experience and skill that UNLV will need for success in the MPSF. Leading them is senior tri-captain B.J. McNicol. McNicol returned from an injury in 97 to start 16 games and score three goals last year. As a freshman, he was the teams third leading scorer and will be counted on this year to be among the leaders.
",B.J. is such an intelligent player,", Barto says. ",He reads the game so well. And he works very hard. He knows we may have to position him around some of our new players because he has the experience to play anywhere on the field.",
Two sophomores, Jason Melendez and Tyler Turchi, started in every game last season and look to improve upon impressive freshman campaigns. Melendez was a pleasant surprise, leading the team in shots, goals, assists and scoring. Turchi has an explosive touch, pouring in three goals in the teams first five games. Both come from excellent prep programs and have solid skills.
",Melendez and Turchi are part of an impressive freshman class we brought in last year,", Barto boasts. ",Jason had an excellent season and an excellent spring and just keep getting better. Tyler is a very steady player, always giving 150 percent.",
The Rebels should enjoy more depth at midfield than at any other position with six players returning. Heading that list is another of the teams captains, senior Geoff Barto. Barto, the son of head coach Barry Barto, obviously comes from a deep soccer background. He is an intelligent player with a great work ethic. Barto started in all 18 games last year, scoring his only goal in a 3-0 win over UC Santa Barbara.
",Geoff has played a few positions for us: outside defender, outside mid, and he gives a good game every game. Wed like to move him forward for more scoring opportunities, but hes a very capable defender.",
Andrew Hooker turned in a good freshman year, starting all games, playing more than 1,500 minutes and scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner over Loyola Marymount. He has good size and good speed for his size, tools necessary to be successful at the Division I level.
",Andrew is another part of that outstanding freshman class,", Barto says. ",He does everything we ask and does it well. He is a very complete player and runs forever.",
Juniors Matt Thompson and Alfonso Romero split time in the midfield last season and should again provide a steady role for UNLV. Thompson has seen his role increase each year and looks to push his way into the starting rotation. Coach Barto calls him ",a gifted player with unlimited potential. Its just a matter of finding the best place for him to contribute. He is extremely technical and has a powerful shot with either foot.",
Romero is an extremely versatile athlete, having played every position except goalkeeper over the past two seasons. He plays the ",utility player", role well whether in a starting position or coming off the bench. He saw more than 1,100 minutes on the field last year and scored his lone goal at San Diego State.
",The thing about Alfonso is he just finds a way to get it done. Hes not overly flashy, just kind of quiet and to himself, and he takes care of business,", says Barto.
Jay Hamilton, despite only six starts, has played in every game of his career. Primarily a threat off the bench, he is a quick, speedy player who finds his way to the goal. In just 1,136 career minutes, Hamilton has three goals and two assists to his credit.
",We expect some good thing out of Jay as an outside midfielder,", Barto says. ",He is coming back nicely from arthroscopic knee surgery last spring.",
Three freshmen return to the Rebels from redshirt years, two of which play on the midfield line. Reggie Bolden and Matt Ledford have improved steadily since joining the program. Bolden is a young, speedy player who picks up valuable experience every day. A former Olympic Development Player in high school, Boldens year off helped both his size and ball skills. Barto thinks he could see some time on the defensive line as well. Likewise, Ledford used his redshirt year well. His all-business approach should show through when fall workouts begin in August.
The last of the Rebels three captains anchors the defense, senior Todd Roberts. Roberts has started every game for the Rebels over the last two years and was one of two players to record more than 1,600 minutes on the field in 98. He is a solid defender who has not stopped improving since arriving on campus. Despite playing defense, he was the teams third leading scorer, scoring seven points and three goals on just eight shots.
",Hes been our best defender over the last three years,", Barto says. ",We dont know exactly which position back there hell play because he plays them all so well.",
Returning to assist Roberts with the defense duties are junior Ryan Bindrup and sophomore Benjamin Hooker. Bindrup, a local product of Green Valley High School, has seen an increasing role each season and will vie for a starting slot this fall. Barto reports that he may see some time on the front line, too, because of his strength and ability in the air.
Hooker, twin brother to midfielder Andrew Hooker, came off the bench in 15 games last year to spell the defense. Hooker scored on his only shot on goal in a 4-0 victory over Alabama A&M. He is another versatile player who will see plenty of minutes and be spread around the field in doing so.
Sophomore Paul Lunkwitz and his brother, freshman Kevin Lunkwitz, look to break into the starting lineup. ",Nobody has a starting position on the defense, yet,", Barto laughs. ",Kevin had a good spring and I expect him to vie for one of those.",
While Kevin spent the year as a redshirt, Paul gained some valuable experience, coming off the bench in 10 games last year. ",Paul is one of those players that will push everybody else around him and keep their game up.",
Goalkeeper is actually the deepest position for the Rebels, where three players return that saw action last year. Junior Ryan Bledsoe won the starting job early in the year and put forth a solid effort in his sophomore season. Bledsoe started 15 of 16 games and posted a 1.652 goals against average with two shutouts. Perhaps his best match of the year was a nine-save effort to preserve a 2-1 win over Loyola Marymount. Bledsoe is the only Rebel with NCAA Tournament experience, earned during his freshman year at Santa Clara University.
Russell Miller and Robert Ackah each saw time in the net last year, as well. Miller started three games early in the year and posted a shutout of his own. Ackah improved as the season progressed and appeared in seven contests, all in relief. Over that span, he allowed fewer than two goals per game.
",We have a very fortunate situation in that we have three very good and competitive keepers,", Barto says. ",The starting job is always for the best player and they all know that. They will all challenge each other and raise the entire groups level of play.",
The incoming freshman class includes some unknowns, but definitely exciting group of players.
",They are all offensive players,", Barto says, claiming that a more offensive team will just take some pressure off the defense. ",If theres one thing we may feature this year, it will be speed.",
Paul Dickinson is coming to Las Vegas from Australia, unseen by Bartos staff. Former Rebel standout P.J. Roberts, also from Australia, called his former coach to recommend Dickinson for the Rebel program.
",P.J. knows what it takes to succeed here and at this level, so were placing a little trust in that,", Barto says.
Jeremy Louthan, Tuomas Talvio and Ryan Cariss are all speedy, yet physical players who go right at defenders and challenge them. All will play a key role in molding the 99 version of the UNLV squad.
Fans will get plenty of opportunities to watch the Rebels this year as 10 of their 18 scheduled games are at Peter Johann Memorial Field. And by returning to the MPSF, plenty of national talent will be on showcase for the fans as well.
After a season opener at the University of San Diego, UNLV hosts three consecutive tournaments during which they will face West Virginia, Kentucky, Detroit, Washington, Maryland-Baltimore County and Gonzaga. The Rebels will close out tournament play with games against MPSF and former WAC rival Air Force along with Centenary at the UNM Invitational in Albuquerque Sept. 24-26.
In mid-October, the Rebels begin MPSF play against national powerhouse UCLA. They will continue to see competitive California schools, such as Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and San Diego State before closing the regular season at New Mexico.