NORTH ADAMS -- The coaches in the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference all say the MCLA men and women will finish sixth in soccer. The Trailblazers aim to prove those coaches wrong.
The MCLA men open on the road today at Norwich University in the Cadet Kickoff Classic. MCLA will play Newbury today and Green Mountain on Saturday.
MCLA opens at home on Saturday, Sept. 8 for the annual MCLA CIAO Classic. The Trailblazers will play SUNYIT on Saturday and Salve Regina on Sunday.
The women start on Saturday, Sept. 1, returning a home-and-home with UMass-Boston. The Trailblazers open their home schedule on Tuesday, Sept. 4, against Smith College.
Both teams have had their chances for making the MASCAC postseason tournament, and by extension either the NCAA or ECAC tourneys, improve. Six teams instead of four will qualify for postseason play, with the No. 1 seeds earning a first-round bye.
The Trailblazers were picked to finish sixth in the MASCAC preseason poll. If that's the case, then the Trailblazers will go to the MASCAC tournament. Head coach Adam Hildabrand said he believes this is a tournament team.
"I think this team is good enough," said Hildabrand. "Last year's team was good enough technically and tactically. They weren't good enough mentally. This team has that mental piece."
Framingham State is the preseason favorite and Salem State is second.
The coach said the biggest thing this fall is scoring goals. The Trailblazers were outscored 22-13 in 16 games last year. That's the bad news. The good is that seniors Jake McCall and Joe Mecca each scored three.
"We struggled to score last year. Mostly, it was that we didn't create enough chances," said Hildabrand. "The hope is if we give them more chances, we'll get more goals."
The Traiblazers are switching to a 3-3-4 alignment with three players up front. Hildabrand said he'd like to see his defense and midfield take a few more chances pushing the ball up front.
That could put some extra pressure on the defense and the goalkeeping. At least, the Trailblazers are set back there with senior Dillon Wager and junior Shawn Willis. Wager played in 13 games, starting 10 and had a 1.18 goals-against average. Sophomore Matt Robinson could work his way into the mix.
Brandon Asher of Hoosac leads a group of four Berkshire County players on Hildabrand's roster. Edgar Asamoah, Ryan Baker and Mitchell Candelet are three freshmen from Taconic. Asher plays a holding midfield position, different than what he played at Hoosac.
Deb Raber's Trailblazers enter the season tied for sixth in the preseason poll with Fitchburg State. That's just fine by the players.
"I think it's more motivation for us to work harder," said midfielder Lindsey Barbolla. "I think if they put us [atop the poll] at the beginning, we wouldn't have anything to work for."
But if Raber's team is to surprise a lot of folks, Danielle Heinsohn is going to have to have a hand in that.
The sophomore from Norfolk played 180 minutes in relief of the now-graduated Jen Wehner. Wehner, MCLA's most decorated female athlete, had a 1.41 goals-against average and four shutouts in 17 games for the 6-10-1 Trailblazers.
"She's doing a great job [in practice]. She's working hard and training every single day. She has an outstanding technical base," said Raber, who as a former goalkeeper, knows of what she speaks.
Former Hoosac Valley player Brianna Bressett graduated and took with her a team-high three goals.
Junior Brianna Dandurant is the top returning scorer, netting two goals last year. The good news in that regard is that players who scored nine of MCLA's 13 goals last year return.
"We have depth in every single position," said Raber. "We have a work ethic that's tremendous. We have leadership that's outstanding."
Jennifer Ferrari, a junior transfer from Westfield via Johnson (Vt.) State, will be the center midfield with Borbolla and former Wahconah standout Kasie Harrington of Dalton.