Following one of the most successful seasons in University history, the men’s soccer team looks primed for more success heading into 2016. 

Returning eight of the squad’s 11 starters, including second-team All-American midfielder Josh Ocel ’17 and first-team All-University Athletic Association goalie Ben Woodhouse ’18, the Judges keep most of last year’s core intact heading into the new season. 

After finishing 2015 with an 18-3-1 record and a first-ever outright UAA championship, the Judges look to earn another National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament berth, this time with hopes of making it past the Sweet 16. That prospect appears to be a promising one, with the men’s squad being yet again nationally ranked in preseason polls, sitting pretty at no. 9 in the country. 

The squad will rely heavily on the same hard-nosed defense that landed them last year’s UAA championship, hoping superior speed and commendable grit will again prove sufficient in bringing the team consistent success. 

On the other side of the pitch, the Judges hope to remedy the offensive woes that plagued the squad throughout much of last season. With a more balanced and lethal offensive attack, the squad can avoid the sort of narrow victories that characterized its 2015 regular season. 

Of the squad’s packed 2016 schedule, a few matches are particularly noteworthy. The Judges face cross-town rival the Tufts University Jumbos (pre-season No. 16) on Sept. 27 on the home turf in what should be one of the more thrilling and dramatic matches of the season. 

The squad also travels to St. Louis in late October to square off against division rival Washington University, a talented team that cracked the preseason polls at No. 24 in the rankings. 

The Judges will face their biggest test of the season when they battle with preseason No. 13 Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Oct. 5. 

The team’s grit will be tested yet again on Oct. 15 when they travel to face off with preseason No. 23 University of Chicago. The team rose to the occasion several times last season, and they hope to show up in full force to these significantly testing matches. 

The Judges gain some relief at the end of October, hosting two consecutive home matches against Emory University and the University of Rochester on the 28th and 30th, respectively. This home-stand comes before the squad’s final match, at NYU on Nov. 5, in what should be a last hoorah before the Judges set off for the anticipated NCAA tournament. 

With its core returning older and more experienced than ever, the squad has very few reasons to underperform this season. If the defense remains the team’s strong suit and whatever question marks surrounding the squad’s offense are resolved, the team could finally break through to the NCAA Final Four after an Elite Eight berth just two seasons ago and a Sweet 16 appearance last year. 

The onus falls on head coach Michael Coven, entering his 44th season, to use the team’s assets effectively. The squad has the talent and leadership to hold its own against giants like Amherst College and the State University of New York Oneonta, but its success depends largely on whether or not the core’s combination of raw skill and veteran savvy can be maximized. Time will tell whether or not the Judges can draw on last season’s success to catapult them to the top of the UAA and NCAA. 

The Judges start their season by hosting the Brandeis Invitational presented by the Park Lodge Hotel Group, beginning Sept. 3, facing John Carroll on Saturday and Haverford College on Sunday. The team looks to start its season off on the right foot before packing up for  a long road trip consisting of three tough games at Nichols College, Babson College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  

The Judges beat each of the three aformentioned teams 1-0, including two double-overtime wins against WPI and Babson. The two overtime wins were a fraction of the unbelievable five overtime wins the Judges had last season. The two also came in the middle of a riveting seven-win streak, before the Judges were thwarted in a  tie against rival school MIT.

The team will look to minimize their overtime excursions, which cost them precious energy throughout the grueling regular season campaign. 

As the hosts of an invitational, the Judges will have much to prove as they open the season.