Hard work and fitness: Those are the trademarks of the UVM men’s soccer team. After a 2009 season full of turmoil on and off the field, this year’s team presents an entirely different story, one that is being written by playmakers and leaders.
One of those leaders is junior transfer Nick O’Neill. O’Neill transferred to Vermont this season after spending two up-and-down years at soccer powerhouse Creighton University. After deciding that his place wasn’t with Creighton he packed his things and came to Catamount Country.
“I wasn’t sure,” O’Neill said when asked what he was expecting out of this season. “[Associate head coach] Wade [Jean] said we would have a rebound season this year and that it wasn’t just a rebuilding year.”
With the help of O’Neill the youthful Catamounts, who have just one true senior in Kyle Luetkehans, have avoided a rebuilding year by storming out of the gates with victory over no. 13 Stanford as well as impressive showings against Colgate and Cornell.
“Coming from Creighton to Vermont, I knew they were both Division I schools so I figured there wouldn’t really be a drop off in talent,” O’Neill said.
But as a Catamount, O’Neill has emerged from the shadows into a key player and a leader for the team. He says he has embraced a leadership role as an upper classman.
“It’s definitely a different role here than I had at Creighton, being an upperclassman,” O’Neill said. “I am in a leadership role. I’m not the most vocal person but I lead by example on the field.”
O’Neill has set quite the example in the first half of the season, scoring four goals in just eight games en route to being named to the CollegeSoccerNews.com national team of the week.
To put his fast success in persepective; the season isn’t even halfway over and O’Neill has more goals than any one player had all of last season. The junior credits his success to staying fit and working hard.
“You have to stay fit and not get complacent. We are a hard working group. That hard work defines Vermont soccer,” O’Neill said.
Despite the individual success O’Neill has had, he is the first to acknowledge his teammates’ contribution. He is quick to point out the consistent effort sophomore DJ Edler and fellow junior transfer Zach Paul has put in.
“It’s easy playing with people who work as hard as DJ and Zach Paul,” O’Neill said. He also mentioned the outstanding skill of the frontline, which is led by fellow leading goal scorer redshirt junior Juan Peralta.
“We work with different combinations [on the front line] as much as possible, it’s all about getting to know the guys you are playing with.” O’Neill said.
The Catamounts seem to know each other very well given that they’ve already scored as many goals this season as they did in 2009. And they aren’t even halfway done.