West Windsor, N.J. – The season is still young, but the prospects for the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s soccer team are strong. For the first time in six years, the Vikings are back in the top 10 in the nation, currently ranked sixth in this week’s NJCAA Division I men’s soccer poll.
Off to an 8-0 start, the defending Region 19 champs have combined an attacking offense with a tough defense to enjoy one of the team’s best starts in years.
The Vikings lead the country in goals scored with 44 – two goals ahead of fourth-ranked annual powerhouse Yavapai (AZ). The Vikings are also first nationally in shot percentage at 3.667 and third in assists, with 41 on the season.
A large part of the offensive success is due to the emergence of sophomore Obinna Iloka (Hamilton, NJ/Nottingham HS), who is currently tied for second in points in NJCAA Division I with 27 through eight games. He is third in the nation in assists (nine) and fifth in goals scored (also nine).
Iloka is not Mercer’s only top offensive player. Three other Vikings are among the top 50 in the country in points: sophomore Shiekh Bangura (Hamilton, NJ/Life Center Academy), who is 12th with 19 points; sophomore Marco Rossi (Sao Paulo, Brazil/Sao Bernardo Do Campo), who is 19th with 17 points; and sophomore Guilherme Franca (Sao Paulo, Brazil/Colegio Amorim), who is 32nd with 14 points.
In addition to Iloka’s fifth place spot for his nine goals scored, Bangura, Franca and Rossi are also in the top 25 in goals scored; all three are tied for 25th with six goals each on the season.
The Vikings also have three other players ranked nationally in assists, including Bangura, who is seventh with seven assists; and Rossi and sophomore Harin Lopez (Trenton, NJ/Trenton Central), who are tied for 16th with five assists.
This explosive offense is combined with an equally impressive defense. Sophomore goalkeeper Kellen Groover (Roebling, NJ/Life Center Academy) has three shutouts and is currently tied for third in the nation in saves, with 51 on the season. He is seventh in the country in save percentage, at .911.
Obinna has not been the only Iloka to contribute this season. His two cousins, sophomore Uzo Iloka and freshman Arinze Iloka, who are brothers, are also playing key roles for Mercer. Arinze is fifth among Mercer’s point leaders this season, with four goals and two assists, and Uzo has two goals and an assist. The three Ilokas have combined for 15 of Mercer’s 44 goals and 12 of Mercer’s 41 assists.
The Ilokas are among a number of local players who are the heart of this Vikings squad. Sophomores David Udijohn, a Notre Dame High school grad from Hamilton, and Anthony Tweh, a Nottingham High School grad, are helping to anchor the defense, while sophomores Valdo Jean-Baptiste (Trenton, NJ/Daylight/Twilight School), Aaron Stovall (Trenton, NJ/Nottingham), Anderson Martinez (Trenton, NJ/Trenton Central) and Jeff Meckel (Hamilton, NJ/Hamilton West) are making a serious impact at midfield. Groover, in goal for the Vikings, is from Roebling (Life Center Academy), and is backed up by freshman Jean Miguez, a graduate of Hightstown High School.
The Vikings are working well as a team and look to continue their momentum through October and into the postseason. Head Coach Widmarc Dalce, now in his fourth year at the helm, is focusing his team on repeating as Region 19 Champions. (The winner of the Region 19 final, which will be played at the MCCC Stadium Oct. 31, will advance to the District Tournament. The winner of that four-team contest advances to the NJCAA National Championship in November.)
For now, however, Dalce and his Vikings are taking it one game at a time. Their next home game is this Saturday at noon, when they face ASA (NY). Their three remaining September games will be played at home: against Region 19 rival, Essex CC, on Sept. 23 at 6 p.m., Bunker Hill (MA) on Sept. 26 at 2 p.m.; and Manor on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. They face a tough Region 19 rival, Rowan@ Burlington, currently ranked 18th in the nation, on Oct. 14 at Burlington, starting at 4 p.m.
Dalce's coaching staff includes Assistant Coaches Scott Loesser, John Pietrowski, Mark Pratico.
Coach Dalce is enjoying his team's best start in his four years as head coach.