Sunday, October 12, 2003

Powerful Denison's deep with Cincinnati players


Locals have team off to a school-best 13-1 record

By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

First, they were just a blip on the men's soccer radar. Before this season, Denison University's glory days were imbedded in a 1978 school-best record (14-2) and one 1980s conference title. The program made two NCAA Tournament appearances, in 1978 and 1979 and hasn't been back since.

But Cincinnati natives Andy Zidron, Matt Fuller, Chad Huber, Matt Schuh and David Smith-Watts have no intention of letting the records stand. Anchored by the five-man wrecking crew, Division III Denison is ranked No. 2 in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of

America.

The Big Red, located east of Columbus in Granville, have attracted national attention with a school-best 13-1 record and the top spot in the North Coast Athletic Conference (4-1).

Fifth-year coach Rob Russo said the kudos start with captain Zidron, a senior defender from Anderson High School, and continue through sophomore Fuller (Lakota West). The eight-man, bread-and-butter junior class is entrenched in Huber (Fairfield), Schuh (St. Xavier) and Smith-Watts (Seven Hills).

"We had a phenomenal recruiting class when (the juniors) came in," Russo said. "We knew sooner or later this would be a special group."

Zidron said it's tough to describe how - or what - has propelled the Big Red to such a season.

"I think a lot of it has to do with our coaches' attitudes. The character of the team and its dynamic has totally changed," Zidron said. "Every time we step on the field this year - even if we're down a goal - we feel confidence."

Huber, a midfielder, said camaraderie suffered in years past when players' disrespectful play impeded wins. Gone are the players who didn't make soccer a priority.

"(Before), we had problems with people making the school look bad," Huber said. "This year we're a lot more focused."

The Big Red have outscored opponents 38-12 and notched five shutouts. The numbers shine compared to years past, when defensive-oriented Denison teams had trouble scoring goals at all, Russo said.

Schuh leads the team with nine goals but attributes them to eight assists between Fuller and Huber. The team's precise, well-executed offense doesn't often allow goals by chance.

"That's a big change this year," Schuh said. "It's not like I'm just in the right place at the right time. I just finish off the assists."

The team's excitement is contagious on campus. Denison knocked off archrival and defending conference champ Ohio Wesleyan 1-0 before 1,300 fans at home Oct. 4.

The team hasn't had trouble withstanding pressure brought on by its season-opening 13-game win streak or ranking, even though it's new territory. During Russo's tenure, the Big Red had cracked the Division III Top 20 once - for one week - in 1999-2000.

Though the Big Red suffered their first loss Saturday, 1-0 to Wooster, it stands only as motivation.

"Soccer is a pretty fickle game. It's not like losses are the worst thing in the world," Fuller said.

Defender Smith-Watts added that the foundation for success can't be cracked by disappointments in the five remaining regular-season games, because the Big Red already has made a mark.

"It's been a really amazing, magical season," Smith-Watts said. "We're having a great time with it."

Others

The Xavier golf team, ranked 26th in the nation by the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, hosts a 21-team invitational Monday and Tuesday at the Golf Center at Kings Island. Among the featured competition is No. 8 Indiana, with the No. 4-ranked individual, Jeff Overton (67.67 average). Monday's shotgun start is at 8:15 a.m. The event is free.

• Miami senior Andrea Kremer was named the Mid-American Conference's Female Scholar-Athlete and Runner of the Week for the third straight time. Kremer, who boasts a 3.73 GPA in mathematics, helped the RedHawks to second place in the Oct. 4 Cardinal Classic.

• University of Dayton linebacker Brian Heizman (St. Xavier) was named a Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week after the Flyers' 32-25 win at Davidson Oct. 4. He blocked a field goal attempt with 2:28 remaining.

• Emory University sophomore Jenna Kereiakes (Indian Hill) was named Athlete of the Week Oct. 6 after having two shots on goal in two games.

• Northern Kentucky University's Katie Hanck (Fairfield) and Bellarmine's Danielle Polce (Loveland) were named Great Lakes Valley Conference co-Players of the Week in women's soccer.

• University of Cincinnati junior midfielder Josh Gardner was named to the collegesoccernews.com National Team of the Week and also named Conference USA's Co-Offensive Player of the Week.

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E-mail srussell@enquirer.com




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