NORTH ADAMS — The fall sports season officially began Thursday night when the MCLA men's soccer team played Montclair (N.J.) State.
The Trailblazers took on the defending New Jersey Athletic Conference champions who were picked to win their league this year.
It's the first of two road games for coach Adam Hildabrand's squad before coming home to play Western Connecticut Tuesday at Shewcraft Field. That game is tentatively scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., the first-ever night game at Shewcraft. But there was still work to be done in getting power for the lights.
Coach Deb Raber's MCLA women have until Saturday to prepare for competition. The Trailblazers open at home against Rivier College, and will play the next three games on the road.
The Trailblazers open the season as they did a year ago, as the No. 3 team in MASCAC.
"I think it's a good place to be," said Hildabrand. "You don't want to be No. 1, because you have a target on your back. You don't want to be on the bottom, because you don't have any respect.
"People are aware that we're a decent team, a decent squad, a decent program. They could potentially take you for granted, too."
MCLA was 5-9-3 last year and lost on penalties to Worcester State in the MASCAC Tournament.
The Trailblazers are a veteran group, with 11 players who will receive diplomas in the spring. There are also eight first-year players, some of whom could have an impact.
It all starts in the back with junior goalkeeper Kam Anderson.
"Last year, he was learning on the job," said Hildabrand. "He should be comfortable with one more year under his belt. For him, it's all about confidence. He has ability
"You know how goalies are. They need to be confident in themselves."
The Trailblazers' top three scorers from last year, All-MASCAC picks each one, all return. Senior Anthony Basile had a team-leading 10 goals, while Dylan Pereira had five goals. Edward Boateng facilitates things, and led the squad with six assists.
Three of MCLA's freshmen have local ties. Jeremy Schnopp from Lenox High School, Khalil Kareh of Hoosac Valley and Jack Peterson of Mount Anthony in Bennington, Vt., could all see time this year.
The last time the Trailblazers made it to the NCAA Division III tournament and hung a MASCAC banner was 1992.
"I think it's been [a realistic goal] talent-wise the last couple of years. Now I think it's realistic with our mindset," said Hildabrand. "I think losing the way we did last year and ... it's a big class graduating, I think there's some unfinished business."
Coach Deb Raber's team has a run of four consecutive MASCAC tournament appearances, but hasn't hung a banner since winning the title in 2010.
The Trailblazers were 3-13-1 and 1-5-1 last year, scoring only three goals in conference play.
"I think anytime you're [hit] with any kind of adversity, it's an opportunity to learn," Raber said. "There were plenty of times last year where we could have done things different, we could have done things better, we could have made adjustments. The only takeaway you can have is as a learning process.
"If you don't take it as learning, you're not going to get any better."
The MCLA offense should revolve around senior forward Natalie Caney. Caney, a former MASCAC rookie of the year, has 21 career goals. Raber said she could see more time in the midfield than up front.
"You'll see Natalie move back. Natalie is just an outstanding distributor of the ball as well," said Raber. "Her vision is just incredible."
Freshman Kaylin Holliday from Catskill, N.Y., junior Aleah Sangiovanni of Pittsfield and Brittany Whitford of Melrose, N.Y., will all be part of the MCLA team effort on offense.
"You're not going to see just one person scoring," said Raber. "It's not going to come concentrated from one person."
MCLA is the preseason No. 7 team in MASCAC, something Raber said she doesn't like to dwell on. She said that preseason rankings are more a factor of where teams ended than where they start.
The veteran coach said she is also pretty happy with the fact that six Berkshire County players are on her roster. Along with Sangiovanni, MCLA has Dalton's Marisa Sprague, Ciera Dowling of North Adams, Lauren Mangiardi of Taconic, Kayla Vivori of North Adams and Meg Richardson of Adams on the roster. Sprague played at Wahconah, Vivori played at Drury, Richardson at Hoosac Valley while Dowling was at BART.
"I'd love to see more kids from the county, absolutely," said Raber. "There's some good soccer in the county, and I'd love for kids to think about staying home more."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.