West Windsor, N.J. -- Every good thing starts with hard work. And, according to Widmarc Dalce, head coach for men’s soccer, that was a key ingredient to the considerable success of the men’s soccer team this season -- plus talent, discipline and teamwork.
Put it all together and the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with. They completed the season with an 18-0-3 record – undefeated – but lost to ASA in the Northeast Region Tournament on penalty kicks on Nov. 7.
With MCCC hosting the District Tournament, there were plenty of fans on hand to cheer on this nationally ranked Mercer team. Going into the tournament, the Vikings were ranked no. 2 in the nation overall and fourth in goals scored, with 91 on the season.
Unfortunately, defense was the story of the game. Mercer's stellar offense managed just three shots on goal during regulation and double overtime. ASA’s smothering backfield held the Vikings scoreless for the first time all year. (Of the team's two regular season ties, one ended 1-1 against ASA on Sept. 19.) After two overtimes with the scoreboard still at 0-0, the game was forced into penalty kicks.
Mercer failed to score on its first kick, while ASA connected on four consecutive kicks to seal its trip to the NJCAA National Tournament in Virginia.
“They were a fun team to watch and they cared so much. It was sad for all of us all to see a perfect season end the way it did,” Dalce said. He notes that even in defeat, his players stayed together as a team. “Our motto was ‘All in for each other.’”
It may be small consolation for the players to know that they almost made it to nationals, but they will be remembered by the college and their considerable fan base for returning Mercer men’s soccer to the national spotlight.
The Region 19 champs were ranked among the top ten nationally for much of the season. Even without playing at nationals, they racked up some impressive statistics, ending the season sixth in the nation in number of goals scored (91). Four players distinguished themselves individually on the national leader board. Obinna Iloka, Marco Rossi and Shiekh Bangura were among the top 50 players in the nation for both points and assists. Rossi was also in the top 50 in goals scored with 14, while goalkeeper Kellen Groover had the top save percentage in the country, making 114 saves in 20 games and allowing only 14 goals. The Vikings returned Mercer to the top 10 nationally, which they had not done since 2008.
Dalce especially praised his team captains, sophomores David Udijohn, Anthony Tweh and Valdo Jean-Baptiste, for their leadership.
Dalce’s own coaching career spans 14 years at different levels so he has much to compare to when he assesses this team. “They truly were one of the best teams I have ever coached. They will have a special place in Mercer history,” Dalce said.
Coach Dalce, who places a major emphasis on academic success, expects many of his sophomores to transfer and continue their playing careers, and numerous freshmen to return to the roster next season. “We coaches stress academics from the very first practice. It’s part of every team talk. Education is first and soccer is second. These players learn how to balance their love for soccer with being a successful college student,” he said.
Dalce was assisted this season by Scott Loesser, John Pietrowski and Mark Pratico.