West Windsor, N.J. - It’s been almost a year since the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s soccer team suffered a heart breaking loss in the 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 19 tournament, but the team has been using the defeat as fuel for the 2019 season.
“Everybody remembers how that felt, and if they don’t, we remind them,” said MCCC men’s soccer Head Coach Widmarc Dalce. The Vikings fell 5-2 to Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) in the semifinal round of the Region 19 tournament. Had they won, Mercer would have reached the championship game for the fifth time since 2014.
This season, the Vikings are led by five sophomores and co-captains, all of whom know the sting of defeat or the taste of victory. Simone Libreri, Matheus Martins Silva, Yuhei Matsushita and Daiki Nagata each played with Mercer in 2018, while Eiichi Yamaguchi, who won the Region 19 tournament with Mercer in 2017, returned to the team this season after a year off.
“Last year, the problem was a lack of maturity, for both the coaches and the players,” Dalce said. “But given our leadership, I think we are going to have a better approach this time around.”
That leadership has been instrumental in starting pre-season on a positive note. Dalce noted that almost immediately the team planned weekly outings off the field and outside of the weight room.
“The guys meet up every Monday, usually at a buffet, and have a team dinner,” Dalce said. He added that spending time together outside of practice has noticeably strengthened the team’s bond. “Our players come from many different backgrounds – Brazil, Italy, Japan, Israel. Having a social life and getting to know your teammates is crucial to building chemistry.”
While the players are cordial with each other, that doesn’t dilute the competition in practice.
“We have a really deep team this year,” Dalce said. “There are at least three players at each position who could get minutes on any given night.”
The competition proves beneficial, fueling intense practices and workout sessions. As has been the case throughout his seven-year coaching tenure, Dalce will substitute players without hesitation to find the winning combination.
Among the games Dalce has circled on his calendar are Saturday, Sept. 21 and Wednesday Sept. 25, when the Vikings visit Essex County College and RCBC respectively (both games are to be played at 2 p.m.).
“Essex and Rowan Burlington are our in-region rivals,” Dalce said. “And since RCBC knocked us out of the tournament last year we are looking to get our revenge.”
This season, the Vikings open play at home against Howard Community College on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. They will continue their home stand on Sunday, Aug. 25 against Suffolk County Community College (noon) and again on Tuesday, Aug. 27 against Camden County College (6 p.m.).