Mitch Fox/The Hoya Sophomore forward Kemmons Feldman led the Hoyas in scoring last year with six goals and 13 points overall.

Fifty years have elapsed since the first fledgling men’s soccer team took the field for the blue and gray. Since then, Georgetown’s men’s soccer program has developed and matured to respectability and prominence in one of the most demanding conferences in the nation.

Coming back after a season in which the team downed nationally ranked teams such as Rutgers and Notre Dame and tied the national leader, St. John’s, before falling in the Big East tournament semifinals, the team looks stronger and poised to make its mark on the collegiate soccer world. With 10 of 11 starters returning and five freshmen eager to take their place on the field, Georgetown sits in a formidable position heading into this season.

Last year the Hoyas finished with an 8-9-1 record and narrowly missed the cut for the NCAA tournament. Despite a young team and a sluggish start to the season, by the final games the players showed that they had the talent to match any team in the conference. This year, the players have had more time to adjust to the rigors of the Big East and have more experience playing with each other, allowing for greater cohesion and teamwork.

“We certainly came in and started off at a higher level than we were last year at this time. Without any question, we’re at a higher level. The first week of preseason has been really good. At the end of the first week we’re at a higher level than the end of the first week last year,” head coach Keith Tabatznik said.

The competition will not make it easy for the Hoyas; although the team comes into the season with high expectations, the Big East coaches’ poll landed them in seventh place out of 13 teams. The squad will have to battle with national powerhouses such as St. John’s, Notre Dame, Connecticut and Boston College in conference play. Nevertheless, Tabatznik remains confident in the players’ ability to match up with the Big East’s top tier.

“The Big East is the toughest conference in the country, without a doubt. There are two teams that have won the national championships in the past seven or eight years. I honestly believe, though, that there are seven or eight teams that can win the conference, and we’re one of them,” Tabatznik said.

Joining the Hoyas this year are five talented freshmen, including two locals, Dan Gavula, a midfielder from McLean, Va., and Andrew Keszler, a goalie from Bethesda, Md.

“Dan Gavula is an outside back, another attacking player and a very good defender. I think that Andrew Keszler is going to be a fantastic goalkeeper,” Tabatznik said.

On top of that, the team has imported a defensive player from Philadelphia, Tim Convey, along with two forwards, Dan Grasso from Burr Ridge, Ill. and Ricky Schramm from Eastchester, N.Y.

“Ricky Schramm has a very good nose for the goal and has had a good preseason so far. He can make the adjustment. I think that he’ll be able to earn his share of playing time and I think that this guy will score some goals for us,” Tabatznik said. “Dan Grasso is another player with good attacking tendencies. Timmy Convey has done very well. He’s quite a danger on restarts offensively.”

Although Georgetown fell into a 0-3 hole in the beginning of last season, the team hopes to open up with a more impressive display at the D.C. Cup, which takes place next weekend on campus. A showdown among the local universities, the Hoyas failed to make any headway and showed a lack of momentum.

“We haven’t done as well as we’d like in the D.C. Cup and it’s been very disappointing. Having said that, our level of play is going to start out a lot higher. We have every intention of winning the Cup here at Georgetown,” Tabatznik said.

A strong start will help the team through a trying September, featuring matches against St. John’s, Boston College and Notre Dame on three consecutive weekends. Tabatznik hopes that the team can return to its late-season form from last year when the team surged to claim a spot in the Big East tournament and defeated high caliber opponents.

The weekend of Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 marks a major milestone for the men’s soccer program as the players, parents and alumni celebrate half a century of the sport on the Hilltop. It offers a chance for players and spectators alike to appreciate the growth and development of men’s soccer throughout the previous century to its current status.

“I played at American University in the late 70s and we always looked forward to playing Georgetown back then. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. We had significant growing pains in those first years,” Tabatznik, who is coaching here for his 20th year, said. “I think the biggest testament to the program now is that we attract soccer student-athletes from around the country.”

On top of that, Georgetown has developed a strong base in order to keep ascending to the top rungs of collegiate soccer. The team now searches for the funding and the recruiting to keep attracting the best high school players and to fuel a squad looking to break out.

“We’re actually a program now, a national level soccer program, and that’s what I hope it can continue to be. I hope that we continue to be a force in the Big East and I certainly hope that we can generate the type of funding to compete as a top 10 team year-in and year-out. That’s the biggest challenge we have. I think it’s a huge thing going into our 50th year to try and generate significant outside support to help our scholarship program,” Tabatznik said.

Still, the Hoyas can enjoy their success so far and can honor the tradition that soccer has developed at Georgetown. Maybe the 50th season will produce results to add to the tributes. Tabatznik expressed confidence that the team has the ability and drive to perform at the top level.

“I think that we have the makings, from a skill point of view, from an athletic point of view and from a commitment point of view of a team that could end up being a top 25 team. We have enough of what it takes to get there.”

The Hoyas challenge cross-town rival George Washington in a scrimmage on Sat., Aug. 23, at 1 p.m. on North Kehoe Field. The season officially kicks of with the D.C. Cup, which begins with a matchup with Howard University at 2:30 p.m on Fri., Aug. 29, also on North Kehoe Field.

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