The MPSF was also awarded an automatic berth in the NCAA championships, which provides further incentive for the Falcons to win the conference title - and the Falcons should challenge for that title.
Luis Sagastume returns to the Academy for the 21st season as head coach of the team. Sagastume is coming off a successful season where he was able to overcome injuries and other setbacks to guide his team to its fourth consecutive winning season. Major Paul Nowotny enters his third season as an assistant coach, and the team welcomes Capt. Matt Mennell, who replaces Capt. David Hansen.
Despite the great season in 1999, the coaching staff will need to work hard to prepare for the 2000 season. Four seniors are gone from the team, including team most valuable player goalkeeper Richie Cullen. Cullen received the Academy's Most Valuable Male Athlete award, one of the top six awards given to cadets for athletic excellence. Cullen finished his four-year career with 248 saves, which ranks second in Air Force history. He also ranks second on the all-time list for career goals against average (1.18). Cullen had 18 solo shutouts in his career and combined for three others for a total of 21 shutouts, most in school history.
Also gone from the 1999 team are forwards Keith McDaniel, the team's second leading scorer, and Brendan Harrison, as well as defender Wes Williams, who started in every game and helped the defense secure seven shutouts. Marty Laye, the team's third highest scorer, and youngster Jamil Walker, who started in five games as a freshman, will not return to the soccer program for the 2000 season.
However, the most notable and costly loss may by that of Trevor Frobose, who decided to leave the Academy to pursue other academic pursuits. Frobose, who started in all 19 games last season, was the team's leading scorer and an all-conference second team selection. He notched 10 goals and added four assists for 24 points.
Although the losses appear costly and indicate a rebuilding season for the young soccer team, a solid core of returners, a group talented players coming up from the junior varsity program and a strong recruiting class should help ensure the Falcons another winning season in 2000.
With the loss of Cullen, the goalkeeper position will be the toughest position to fill this season. Cullen will be back to assist the team as a coach of goalkeepers. The addition of Mennell to the coaching staff will also help the team, as Mennell had a standout career as goalkeeper for the Falcons in 1992-95.
Slotted for the starting role is junior Michael Brophy. Brophy played in just two games in 1999, recording 60 minutes in the net. He had one save and did not give up a goal in his time as keeper. Sophomores Mike Taylor and Jason Daniels led the junior varsity squad to an 11-2-1 record, which included five shutouts. Both keepers looked solid in spring workouts and will battle for a spot on varsity.
The Falcons return just one regular starter at the forward position - team captain Ryan Sagastume. The Falcons will expect Sagastume to anchor the offense and increase his goal production. He scored two goals in 1999 and tallied seven points. Assisting in the offensive efforts will be Wells Littlefield and Britton Miller, who combined for five starts last season. Miller, a junior, tied for third best in scoring with 10 points on four goals and two assists. Littlefield scored twice on five shots on goal.
"We are a bit inexperienced up front, but in Wells, Britton, and newcomer Dan Walsh, we have lots of speed to complement Ryan's ability to hold the ball. We have the potential to be very dangerous up front," Coach Sagastume said.
The Falcon midfield will be led by Brandon Jones, who started 13 games last season, will also be a solid part of the Falcons' game plan.
"Brandon is one of the most talented players on the ball we have had at Air Force. We are looking for him to have a breakout year and become one of the top players in the conference," Sagastume says.
Helping Jones in the midfield will be team co-captain C1C Donovan Knueur whose smooth, consistent type of ball-possession play should help the Falcons control the middle of the pitch. The outside midfielders figure to be C3C Lee Brletich and C3C Tom Clark, who join the varsity squad after successful seasons with the J.V. program last year. C3C Dave Auston, C3C Ryan Mansfield and C2C Allan Smith are expected to compete for a starting spot and provide depth in the midfield.
The Falcons' defense has always been one of the soccer teams' strong suits, and this year shouldn't be any different. Returning is Matt Rabe, who started in every game for the Falcons. Rabe, a solid defender, was selected to the all-tournament team of the 1999 Falcon Invitational. He can also score, garnering five points on one goal and three assists last season.
Converted midfielder Terrance Welliver will anchor the defense. Welliver was a nice surprise for the Falcons in 1999 as he was selected the team's most improved player. In the UCLA tournament at the end of season, Welliver was selected to the all-tournament team. C2C A.J. Ruiz will rounds out the starting defense and is expected to be a leader in the back for the Falcons.
Also returning in the defender position is Noah Merica-Jones. In 1999, Merica-Jones was one of two freshmen who made the varsity squad. He started in eight games and was selected as the team's rookie of the year. Mike Alfaro saw action in nine games last year and will challenge for a starting position this season.
The soccer program brings in 19 players this season. While many of these players will get quality experience at the junior varsity level, others will compete for varsity positions as freshmen. Top recruit Daniel Walsh, a three-sport standout athlete who played at the Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, is expected to immediately challenge for a varsity position at forward. Also expected to make an immediate impact are Phillip Peacock, Ken Toporek, Jeremiah Kirschman, and Casey Chronister.
The Falcons not only look to continue their streak of consecutive winning seasons, but they also hope to improve their record over last season. A solid core of returnees, a strong group of newcomers and an excellent coaching staff will lead the 2000 team to success.