Teams want to be playing their best soccer at the end of the season, and the SUNY Cortland men’s soccer squad did just that last fall.
The Red Dragons were on a roll — winning eight times over a nine-game stretch — before seeing the season halted with a 2-1 loss at Brockport in the SUNY Athletic Conference playoff semifinals.
Head coach Steve Axtell hopes to build off that late-season surge when the Red Dragons get the season underway playing host to Elmira College in a Thursday evening non-leaguer, slated for a 7:30 p.m. start.
Axtell’s teams have posted double-digit wins in three consecutive campaigns.
Senior goalie Joe Brandofino is one of the team captains returning from a 2015 Cortland club that finished 5-3-1 in the conference, 12-5-2 overall and out-scored foes by a 44-18 margin. Brandofino posted eight shutouts, finishing with a 0.94 goals against average.
Senior forward Nick Tata is another team captain, and comes back after scoring a team-high 10 goals and picking up four assists while earning All-East Region second team honors. Senior forward Tyler Kirschner (9 goals-4 assists) and senior midfielder Daniel Friend (4 goals-16 assists) are two other seasoned scorers who should make the Red Dragon offense potent.
Junior midfielder Drew DeJohn should help steady things at midfield. The defense will have to replace graduated sweeper Sean Streb out of Lansing, who joined Tata on that All-East Region squad as a third teamer and is now a Homer Central varsity assistant coach.
As for other Cortland squads opening up this week:
FIELD HOCKEY: Former Marathon Central scoring whiz Tiffany (Marsh) Hubbard takes over at Cortland, after previous Division I college coaching stints at Georgetown and Ohio University. Hubbard hopes to continue the success of retired coach Cynthia Wetmore, who won 271 games and a 2001 Division III national title during her 18 seasons running the Red Dragons.
Cortland finished an unblemished 6-0 in the SUNYAC regular season, only to have a loss to New Paltz in the conference title game deny the team a spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs despite 14-5 overall won-loss credentials.
Senior forward Gabby Stein, senior back Kristi Thompson and junior back Meg Redmond are team captains as Cortland heads into Thursday’s opening assignment at Nazareth College. That game is a 4 p.m. start in Pittsford.
Maine-Endwell product Stein will be among a potent group of returning scorers, having collected 15 goals while picking up a handful of assists in 2015. Sophomore forward Jessica Welsh from Hamilton scored 13 goals as a rookie and junior midfielder Megan O’Brien is back after contributing six goals and an assist.
Sophomore goalie Kailynne Reinoehl anchors the defense, having posted a 0.93 goals against average with seven shutouts last season.
VOLLEYBALL: Creating some offense should not be a problem for Cortland, though record-setting setter Liz Roberts will have to be replaced to run the show. Freshman Maria Gelyon hopes to take over that crucial position, or junior Sarah Piacentini.
Cortland has plenty of talent looming at the net, senior senior Samantha Czeczotka (364 kills), junior Courtney Silberer (294 kills), junior Amanda May from Baldwinsville (292 kills) and junior Janine Patora (224 kills) all returning for Coach Pam Hoerup.
That is why the Red Dragons are expecting to improve on last year’s record, when Cortland finished 5-4 in the SUNYAC and 20-17 overall.
WOMEN’S SOCCER: Scoring goals presented a serious problem for Cortland, who ended up 1-8 against SUNYAC competition and 6-11 overall for Coach Heidi (Woodcock) Axtell, who married men’s coach Steve Axtell in the off-season.
The Red Dragons were held scoreless nine times in 2015.
Sophomore Brenna Conover is the top returning scorer, the midfielder having scored five goals while picking up an assist last fall. Sophomore forward Amanda Profera (3 goals-1 assist), junior midfielder Gianna Carnesi (2-2) and sophomore midfielder Vanessa Romero (2-0) also had some past scoring success.
Senior Victoria Barclay is the lone experienced goalie, where freshmen Linnzi Hosein-Sarro and Jessica Powell out of Vestal are pushing for playing time. Barclay had a 1.22 goals against average appearing in 11 games.
Cortland will compete in the Kean University Tournament in New Jersey to get the season underway, to face St. John Fisher at 4 p.m. Friday and Scranton at 1 p.m. Saturday.
WOMEN’S TENNIS: Cortland opens up Thursday at Oswego, coming off a 6-6 season and a fifth place team showing at the SUNYAC Championships. Last season, freshman second singles Nikaylah Williams and sophomore singles Daria Bystry both posted winning 6-5 records.
LOCAL MUSTANG ROOKIES: A pair of local players will be starting their college careers at Morrisville State on Thursday.
Marathon’s Alyx Kirchner is a freshman midfielder for the Mustangs’ field hockey squad to goes to Geneva to take on William Smith. DeRuyter’s Samantha Harris is a freshmen defender on the women’s soccer team that faces SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry to open the season.