KINGS POINT, N.Y. -- The United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners, last year's Landmark Conference Champions, were chosen second by Landmark coaches in the preseason poll.
Merchant Marine looks to continue their streak of 21 consecutive winning seasons and three consecutive NCAA tournament bids. However, this season may pose a challenge for Kings Point as they lost six starters from last year's squad.
In the back, the Mariners will lean on two-time Landmark Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Kurt Olsen (Charlotte, N.C.) and junior Kyle Parker (East Islip, N.Y.) who started eight of the 12 games he played last year. "We believe in Kurt's ability and leadership skills," said Michael Smolens, head coach of the USMMA soccer team. "Our coaching staff will be counting on him to lead the defense."
To fill the defensive vacancies, USMMA will look to senior Mark Bloom (Oceanside, Calif.), and sophomores Ryan Gardner (Staten Island, N.Y.), Abboss Rezaie (Plano, Texas), and Dillon Meagher (Acton, Mass.). "The coaching staff is excited to see how they develop and adjust to a heightened role," noted Coach Smolens. Kings Point will also turn to junior Stephen Fucito (Keenesaw, Ga.) to start in goal for 2012. "Stephen served as a backup behind solid goalkeepers in the past and is working hard to take his game to the next level," said Smolens.
In the midfield, a host of candidates will vie for playing time. Juniors Alex Maney (Ashburn, Va.), Kevin Pfeil (Burnt Hills, N.Y.) and sophomore Kyle Arestivo (North Port, N.Y.) will compete for center midfield positions, while juniors Nick Cuellar (San Diego, Calif), Tanner Nestler (Asheville, N.C.), Alex Palermo-Re (Manassas, Va.), and Sam Reed (Johnston, Iowa) look to have breakout seasons on the flank.
Up front, senior Ryan Silveira (Katy, Texas) is the Mariner's most consistent returning forward, starting all 18 games for Kings Point in 2011 netting four goals and one assist for a total of nine points. Joining him are forwards Cody Kessler (Delmar, N.Y.), Tim Anthone (Overland Park, Kan.), and Nick Vogel (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) who have had some success in the past, but look to create even more opportunities for USMMA in 2012.
"We'll be looking for a number of less experienced underclassman to step up and make an impact," added Coach Smolens. "It's always a challenge when six starters graduate. What's most important is the work they put in to prepare themselves to compete at a high level."
The Mariners will be facing stiff competition for much of the season, as their non-conference opponents include perennial NCAA tournament qualifiers such as, Stevens, NYU, Rutgers-Newark, and the WNEU tournament to kick-off the season. However, USMMA coaching staff is confident that a demanding non-conference schedule is vital to adequately preparing for Landmark Conference play.