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Men's Soccer Preview: 'Cats eye riding last season's wave

Dae Ro Lee, who scored the game-winning goal at Middlebury last season, is one of many offensive weapons on the Bobcats.

LEWISTON, Maine -- Finishing 9-6 was far from the whole story: the 2008 Bates College men’s soccer team had one of the more unusual and exciting seasons of the year among Bobcat teams.

The team started the season slowly, losing five of its first six NESCAC games, but four by only one goal. With half of the Bates starting lineup comprised of first-years and sophomores, it took some time before the Bobcats found their chemistry. The Bobcats finished with five wins in its final six games, defeating two previously unbeaten squads (MIT and Middlebury) on the way and propelling them into the fifth seed in the NESCAC Championship.

Dae Ro Lee’s (Yongin, South Korea) game-winning goal against Middlebury, the defending NCAA champions, sparked Bates’ dramatic run into the postseason. Bates went on to beat Wesleyan and Colby in its final two games of the season to move themselves up in the final standings.

"We started coming together at the end of last season, and we'd definitely like to carry some momentum into this year," said George Purgavie, now in his 27th season as head coach at Bates. "The guys have been working hard this offseason, so I like our chances."

The Bobcats graduated only three players from the 2008 team, all of them defenders: Oliver Fadly, Nate Kellogg and All-NESCAC back Clark Winchell. But seniors Patrick King (Gorham, Maine), Peter Litwin (Concord, Mass.) and Ben Trook (Weston, Mass.) return in front of goalkeeper Greg Watts (West Chester, Pa.), who had a solid freshman season as the season-long starter in net. Purgavie is confident Bates will ably fill the openings on the starting back line.

Junior Pat Jackson (Durham, N.H.) returns after an exceptional sophomore season at midfield, in which Jackson scored a team-high 9 goals to go with 2 assists. A host of other potent weapons who emerged last season, including junior Tim Molnar (Rocky River, Ohio; 9 points), sophomore Chris Okano (Los Angeles, Calif.; 8 points) and junior Lee (6 points) are also back, as is another skilled offensive player who missed last season while working on Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Rob Friedlander (Hopkinton, N.H.; 8 points combined in 2006 and 2007). Senior Jonathan Lobozzo (New Gloucester, Maine), a team co-captain along with King, had a team-high three assists in 2008 from midfield.

Other returners who received extended playing time on the 2008 team include juniors Chris LaBrecque (Falmouth, Maine), Dustin DiGregorio (Boxford, Mass.), Tyler Dewdney (Meriden, N.H.) and Tyler Mehegan (Duxbury, Mass.).

Purgavie also expects significant contributions from at least some of a large class of first-year players, among them Johnny Murphy (Yarmouth, Maine), Sam Barron (Kirkwood, Mo.), Ethan Hirshberg (Concord, N.H.), Ryan March (Concord, N.H.), Andrew Panella (Boxford, Mass.), Alec Taylor (Mendham, N.J.) and Griffin Wagner (Longmeadow, Mass.).

Over the past three seasons, in Bates' final five games the Bobcats have combined for a 10-4-1 record. Getting off to better starts may be the key to taking another step ahead. Bates opens the season by hosting Connecticut College on Sept. 12 at 2 p.m.