CANTON — Led by goalie Aaron Costello, and a strong defense, the St. Lawrence University men’s soccer team figures to be among the top squads in NCAA Division III this season.
The Saints finished with a 17-3-2 overall record last season and reached the NCAA Division III sweet 16 before falling 2-1 in overtime at Amherst (Mass.).
SLU, with most of its key players back, opens the season ranked No. 7 in the nation and begins play tomorrow with a home game at 2 p.m. against SUNY Cortland.
The only regular the Saints lost was leading scorer Andrew Bednarsky (9 goals-8 assists), but the squad returns players who scored the other 37 goals the team produced last season.
And SLU also brings back a strong defensive unit, which gave up only 10 goals all of last season and helped Costello, a senior who started for the first time last year, to produced a school-record 16 shutouts.
“He’ll be one of the first guys to tell you, that as well as our goalies have done, they’ve got a lot of help from the guys in front of them,” Saints coach Bob Durocher said. “Part of that is him providing some leadership. If they get the guys in front you to make the right decisions, be in the right defensive shape, when those kind of things happen it’s really a team effort. He made some big saves when he had too and his distribution skills are very good. He has the tools. Anytime you have that type of achievement, it’s really a group of guys working together.”
Costello, a native of Saratoga Springs, had originally hoped to play at Colgate, where his older brother Adam was a midfielder from 2007-10.
“I was originally looking to go (Division I),” Costello said. “I kind of realized I didn’t want to make such a huge commitment to a DI program. I’ve gone to the St. Lawrence camps ever since I was a little kid. I knew the way (Durocher) played and it’s a real contrast. Bob plays real possession, real good soccer. You see a lot of DI schools and they don’t have really good soccer players, they have outstanding athletes, but they play a lot of kickball. I love Bob’s method and the way that he knows the game and teaches the game.”
Costello rarely saw action in his first two years at SLU, playing behind veterans Brian Abernethy and Nate Goss-Woliner. But both players had graduated by the time last season began and Costello won the job.
“It was a big change, for sure,” Costello said. “I tried to do my best. Coach Chris Custer helped us out with really intense training sessions. Practices were harder than the games.”
As Durocher mentioned, the success enjoyed by Costello and many other SLU goalies before him, comes in large part to the play of the defensive unit.
“It’s tremendously helpful,” Costello said of the team’s defensive starters. “Our average is three shots against me, per game. Sometimes they are just little dribblers. Harry (Copeland), Christian Yarros, Dan Hunt and Austin Roney do a great job in front of me.” With the players that are coming back, the odds are good that the Saints not only could return to the NCAA Tournament, but possibly be seeded high enough, nationally, that they get to host all their games up to the final four.
“(Bednarsky) will be a big loss, both in his leadership and in his play,” Durocher said. “But I think the captains, Dan Hunt and Mark Provost, are both capable to step up and provide good leadership. The guys are buying into what we are trying to do.
“The biggest thing is last year was last year. I’ve seen teams return everyone but two starters and not make it to postseason play. We have a lot of the pieces back here, but we’ve got to put it together and we have to see how we can integrate some of the new players in.”
Whether or not this squad can become the first national champion at SLU since 1999 is yet to be seen.
“It could be us,” Costello said. “I’d like for us to be the next ‘99 team. But, it’s going to be tough to top those guys. They are a bunch of really class soccer players. I think we just need to communicate more, be more positive, and when we are down we are definitely not out of any scenario.”