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Men's soccer seeks to pair high caliber of play with greater consistency in 2017

Sophomore forward Eric Opoku and senior midfielder PJ DiBenedetto are two reasons Bates men's soccer heads into a promising 2017 season. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College) 

LEWISTON, Maine -- Over the first three seasons of the Bates College men's soccer team's senior class's careers, the Bobcats have gone a combined 17-21-7, with a 6-19-5 record in the stacked New England Small College Athletic Conference.

A closer look reveals a collection of strong results, including wins and ties against nationally ranked opponents, offset by other games of the woulda-coulda-shoulda variety -- the games that derail what could have otherwise been a truly successful season. This year's schedule will likely constitute similar challenges.

"Yes, we should be good," said sixth-year head coach Stewart Flaherty. "The way I look at it, the last three or four seasons, some of our results, like wins and draws against top-20 teams, were not a fluke. It's consistency that has eluded us. We definitely need to add consistency from the start of the season to the end."

Bates' quest for consistency isn't new but it hasn't let up, either. Flaherty sees consistency's primary driver as being its leadership from seniors, and he sees the Class of 2017 as being up to the task.

All four seniors -- midfielder and captain PJ DiBenedetto (Buffalo, N.Y.), forward Nate Merchant (Los Angeles, Calif.), defender and captain Max Watson (Yarmouth, Maine) and midfielder Justin Yacovino (North Bergen, N.J.) -- have proven work ethic and humility, such as the ability to be put in and and taken out of the starting lineup without missing a beat.

"Everything they've shown in their four years has been positive, from their impact on the game, to the way they act around the locker room, lead their social lives and get their academic work done," said Flaherty. "They are four positive examples and role models for the others on the team."

Flaherty has made it a practice to insert first-year players into the starting lineup, or at least his regular rotation, right away. One benefit is the amount of playing experience his returning players can lean on. From the junior class, goalie Robbie Montanaro (Belmont, Mass.), midfielder Ben Lyons (San Rafael, Calif.) and defender Drew Munoz (Dallas, Texas) have played in a combined 67 games. And Bates' sophomore class is particularly well-seasoned: midfielder Peder Bakken (Seattle, Wash.), converted forward Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene (Bronx, N.Y.), defender Antonio Heredia (Elizabethtown, Pa.), forward Eric Opoku (Accra, Ghana), and Julien Williamson (Sandy, Utah) combined for 47 starts in 2016.

The Bobcats open the 2017 season with a non-conference game Tuesday, Sept. 5 at UMaine-Farmington (*NOTE: The game has been postponed due to weather.) They'll open NESCAC play at Hamilton on Saturday, Sept. 9 and host the University of New England in their home opener on Garcelon Field Wednesday, Sept. 13.