While the Georgetown men’s soccer team returns to the grass of North Kehoe Field with only six of the 11 starters who led it to a Big East divisional title and the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2010, this fall’s crop of Hoyas has its sights even higher.

“I think the goal this year is to build off of what we did last year, so I think we are defending the division [title], and our goal is to go farther in the NCAA tournament,” senior defender and co-captain Tommy Muller said.

Georgetown finished last season 12-6-2 (7-2 Big East), highlighted by a nine-game winning streak through the heart of conference play. Even more impressive, however, is that the Blue and Gray are 15-3-2 in their past 20 competitions, including preseason and spring exhibitions.

This stretch includes last October’s title-clinching triumph over No. 2 UConn, an Aug. 20 preseason toppling of then-No. 4 Maryland on the road, and most recently a disappointing, controversial loss to Virginia Commonwealth in Monday’s season opener.

“Without playing creme puffs we’ve done very well with this group of players, and so I think their expectations are that every-time they step on the field we’re going to win,” Head Coach Brian Wiese said. “That’s a mentality more than anything else.”

Graduation may have claimed a considerable portion of Georgetown’s roster, but opposing defenses will be troubled by the news that midfield maestro and co-captain Ian Christianson — the 2010 Big East Midfielder of the Year who sparks the Hoyas’ offense — is only beginning his junior year.

Christianson, who was named First Team Preseason All-American after tallying 17 points with five goals and seven assists in the past season, will be joined by sophomore striker Steve Neumann, the Hoyas’ top hit-man, who led the Blue and Gray with 28 points on 10 goals and eight assists in a phenomenal freshman season. In addition, junior Andy Reimer adds dangerous service from the midfield, while Muller will anchor the defense from his position at center back.

“Even though you lose so many guys, you still have a core group coming back that were big parts of the puzzle last year,” Wiese said. “You know those key ingredients are back and for that reason I think there is a fundamental confidence in the group.”

Georgetown’s success this year also depends on the play of several new starters from a talented recruiting class. Freshman goalkeeper Tomas Gomes impressed in his debut between the posts on Monday, while midfielder Tom Skelly and defender Tyler Rudy are expected to have an impact in their freshman seasons after strong performances in the preseason.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces, a lot of new, dangerous players coming in,” Neumann said. “I definitely feel that we’re well prepared coming into the season.”

The Big East coaches projected the Hoyas to finish fourth in their division, but the Blue and Gray are reigning champions. Wiese is sure that as the title-holders, they should expect everyone’s best shot throughout a long and difficult season.

“Regardless of who’s graduating and who’s coming back and everything else, you are the team that won [the division] the year before so you’ll always have a little bit more of a target on your back and you have to handle it,” Wiese said. “We want to try to get to Red Bull Arena [site of the Big East tournament finals] this year, which I think last year’s team felt was a goal which they had in their hands, and they let it slip through. They want to get there badly.”

It won’t be easy. Georgetown tackles a difficult non-conference schedule with road games at No. 15 Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State before beginning play in the Big East – arguably the most competitive league in the NCAA – with matchups against the likes of No. 5 Connecticut, No. 10 Notre Dame, and No. 12 West Virginia. Luckily for the Hoyas, the test is a familiar one — one they’ve passed before.

“When the Big East stretch came last year we won nine Big East games in a row, and so to defend that is hard,” Muller said. “To play week in and week out against good competition and keep that standard high is going be a challenge.”

The Blue and Gray’s next appearance is set for Friday at 4 p.m. as Georgetown (0-1-0) takes on non-conference foe Radford (1-0-0) at North Kehoe Field. The Hoyas then round out the weekend homestand against Stanford (0-0-0) on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff set for 1 p.m.

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