by Tom Utescher
Midway through the second half of last Saturday’s conference home game, the men’s soccer team from Chestnut Hill College was holding onto a 1-0 lead that stemmed from a goal midway through the opening period.
The home crowd didn’t have to hold its collective breath during the final minutes of the contest, though, as the Griffins picked up an insurance goal with a little over 21 minutes remaining, and then scored again to cruise to a 3-0 victory over North Jersey’s Felician College.
CHC improved to 2-3-1 overall and while remaining unbeaten within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (2-0-1). A week earlier, the Griffins had turned in an impressive 3-0 win over conference rival Post University, which arrived at Victory Field ranked 25th in the nation in NCAA Division II. Next time out, Chestnut Hill scored the opening goal in a bout with Bloomsburg University, but then broke down on defense and lost, 5-1.
Last Saturday’s opponent, the Felician Golden Falcons, was a club that was struggling both in and out of the CACC, coming in at 0-2, 0-6. It was important that the Griffins take care of business and stamp out a win against a team they were expected to beat.
“Returning to conference play, we knew that we needed to get back on track, and that a “W” would keep us undefeated in the CACC,” noted first-year head coach Casey Huckel. “It was nice to sort of erase the memory of that Bloomsburg game with an emphatic 3-0 victory today.”
Huckel was already familiar with his charges when he took over the reins of the program; he was an assistant on the coaching staff in 2013. He succeeds Penn Charter graduate Keith Cappo, who guided the Griffins for four seasons. Cappo is now an assistant women’s soccer coach at Temple University, where he works under yet another former Chestnut Hill College mentor, Seamus O’Connor.
Before joining the CHC staff as an assistant last fall, Huckel served in the same capacity for St. Joseph’s University and Arcadia University. From 2004 to 2010 he was the head coach at Franklin Towne Charter School, leading the Coyotes to four PIAA District 12 championships.
Three of Huckel’s five assistant coaches at CHC are former Griffins players, Julian Fernandez (’11), Michael Goldstein (’13), and Robert Stocklin (’14). Goldstein was on the staff last year, as well.
Early in last Saturday’s game, Huckel’s crew had an excellent chance to be first on the scoreboard when Felician goalie Anthony Tsouhnikas (five saves) was caught way out of the cage in the left side of the penalty area. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the Griffins hesitated, then ended up shooting over the goal.
Later on, the visitors’ Tsouhnikas dove to the turf to save a drive by CHC Juan Amaya, and then a 40-yard volley by fellow senior Nicolas Jaffe tracked wide to the left.
Both of these players would score before the day was out, but the Griffins’ first goal came from their classmate Channing Coulliard. With 20:40 left in the first half, he found the target from the left side of the box after receiving a pass from Jaffe.
A few minutes later, a direct kick for Chestnut Hill from outside the 18 deflected off a defensive wall of Golden Falcons. The visitors generated a short stretch of offensive activity around the 10-minute mark, earning a corner kick that failed to yield a shot.
Down 1-0 for the start of the second half, the Falcons made a few more attacks in the home team’s defensive third, but once again they had trouble getting a boot on the ball when it mattered.
CHC reinforced its lead with 21:26 to go, when Jaffe outstripped a few Felician defenders as he sped along the left border of the box and then fired across into the middle of the net. Six minutes later, senior Dominic Pernice launched a promising header off of a crossed ball, but Tsouhnikas made a frantic leaping save.
After Felician headed two shots over the CHC crossbar, the Griffins were able to add a third goal with 6:34 remaining. From the right wing Jaffe delivered the ball inside to Amaya, who finished from about 12 yards out.
CHC’s sophomore goalie James Jackson, a returning starter, hadn’t played against Bloomsburg, so his one save against Felician earned him his second straight shutout.
“We defended well and we didn’t allow many shots on goal,” Huckel remarked. “This was a team effort; I thought everyone who played today played well.”
In overview, the new coach observed, “This team has a lot of talent and a lot of potential. Once we come together and start playing our best in every game, I feel we can beat anyone. The main thing is, we need to be consistently focused.”