Beginning the 2017-18 season, the men’s soccer team is already off to a strong start. While the official start of the season, originally scheduled for Tuesday, September 5th against the University of Maine Farmington, was postponed, it clearly didn’t break these athletes’ stride.
Four days later, the men’s team was ready to approach Hamilton, a team that was a finalist in the NESCAC championships last year, in what they knew was going to be a tough, but winnable game.
Strong defense, coupled with a new mix of offensive players, gave the Bobcats the edge they needed to set the tone of the game early. In the fifteenth minute Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene ‘20 scored his first career goal with a well-placed header. Shortly after, however, Hamilton returned with a goal, but just shy of halftime a well-placed throw-in allowed another header goal, spectacularly executed by Nate Merchant ‘18. With the Bobcats now in the lead, the Hamilton offence worked hard in the second half but were no match for Bates’ defense, ending the game with a 2-1 win.
Merchant is shaping up to be a key member of this year’s team, scoring two of Bates’ three goals in last week’s game vs. University of New England. After an unpopular penalty call that landed Ben Lyons ‘19 with a yellow card, UNE was able to get on the board with a well-placed free kick. However just 28 seconds later, a good ball from Merchant allowed Lyons to easily sink a shot past the UNE keeper, tying up the game. The second half was well matched, and after some close shots, Merchant was able to outrun his defender and place a nice goal, bringing the Bobcats into the lead. Less than a minute later Merchant was back at it again, scoring the game winning goal with a beautiful shot coming off a UNE defender.
Merchant continued to be a force on the field in Saturday’s game at Newbury College, scoring the first goal of the night with another well-placed header. Eric Opoku ‘20, got his second assist of the night, setting up Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene ‘20, who sent the ball nicely into the top corner. With Bates now leading 2-0, the Newbury offence responded with energy, snatching themselves one goal late in the second half. The Bobcats quickly retaliated, using a corner kick to their advantage, with Austin Sansone ‘20 scoring the winning goal.
A strong string of games has Bates sitting 3-0 so far this season, and the team hopes to extend that streak with a win at Wesleyan this Saturday September 23rd. The ‘cats have a strong group of returning players, like Merchant and Robbie Montanaro ‘19, one of the team’s goalkeepers who almost tied his career number of saves in the first game.
“I would say that this is the hardest working team I have been a part of in my three years here at Bates and all the work everyone put in in the offseason is really coming to fruition. As far as goals are concerned we’re taking it one game at a time but we completely expect to be fighting for a top spot in the league this year,” said Montanaro.
There is also a strong group of incoming first-years who are eager to do their part: Goalkeeper David Goodstein, Defenceman Blaise Marceau, Midfielders Josiah Krul, Jordan Cannon, and Eli Eshaghpour, and Forward Jason Seeger.
One of the goals for the team this year is not limited to those on the field. “This year we are really looking to improve the team culture.” said Seeger, “But that doesn’t end with the team. We love to see people out at games and want to be a team they can be proud of.”
James Woods ‘21, a spectator at the home opener vs. UNE, said, “It’s a great group of guys, and they work hard every day, in and out. Watching that hard work translate into strong performances out on the field and a win for the crowd is nice to see and great for the program.”