The University of Scranton men's soccer team will open their 2016 campaign where they ended the 2015 season - on top of the Landmark Conference.
The Royals, who finished last season with an 11-7-2 record, are slotted first in the 2016 Landmark Conference Preseason Poll, which was released by the conference office this morning.
In all, Scranton received 68 total points in the ranking, along with six first place votes. Elizabethtown, who Scranton knocked off in last season's Landmark Conference Championship match, 3-2, is slotted second with 58 total points and two first place votes.
"It's certainly a nice honor to be voted number one, but it does add the extra pressure," said head coach Matt Pivirotto, who enters his 18th season at the helm of the Royals program in 2016. " The good thing is we have an experience, mature group back that can handle situations like this. At the end of the day, our goal is to be there at the end of the season so we can compete for the Landmark Conference title."
Pivorotto returns many of the key components that paced the Royals to the Landmark title last season (their first outright conference championship of any kind since 1985), along with a victory in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament over UMass-Boston.
In all, Scranton returns 20 letterwinners from a season ago, paced by a senior class of 10 student-athletes that will look to lead the Royals' charge to another conference title.
Three of those seniors were installed as captains before the season gets underway - Eric Hintz (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor), Pat Codispoti (Rockville Centre, N.Y./Chaminade), and Matthew Busch (Mahwah, N.J./Mahwah), a dynamic trio that will all lead the Royals defense yet again in 2016.
Hintz, a goalie, has started 53 of the last 54 matches in between the pipes for the Royals and was an All-Landmark Conference First Team selection last season. With 19 career shutouts, Hintz posted a goals against average of 0.98 in 2015, making 57 total saves in net.
Codispoti and Busch will control the back line for Scranton, as Codispoti also earned All-Landmark First Team honors at his position last year (he also scored two goals and adding an assist). Busch started all 20 matches for a defensive unit that recorded eight shutouts last year, as well.
Offensively, Scranton returns two student-athletes who went into double-figures in the points column last year. They are seniors Tim DiBisceglie (Mine Hill, N.J./Gill St. Bernard's) and Michael Bergen (Newtown, Pa./Pennington School), who both tallied 10 total points in 2015.
DiBisceglie, who matched a team-high with four goals and two assists, was a First Team All-Landmark Conference selection in the midfield, while Bergen notched four assists (a team-high) and scored three goals in 20 starts last year.
Senior Henry Bonilla (Fairless Hills, Pa./Pennington School), who scored three goals and added an assist last season also returns, as does sophomore Connor Casey (Hatfield, Pa./LaSalle College HS), who saved his best play for the end of the Royals' 2015, scoring game-winning goals in three straight matches in the Landmark Conference Playoffs and NCAA Tournament.
The schedule for the Royals in 2016 will be a challenge not only in the Landmark Conference itself, but out of conference, as well.
The slate gets kicked off this weekend when Scranton hosts the Royals/Monarch Challenge at Fitzpatrick Field . On Saturday, Scranton takes on Gettysburg at 3:30 p.m., followed by a match-up with Cabrini (an NCAA Tournament participant a season ago) on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Following a home match with Muhlenberg on Sept. 7, the Royals hit the road for four of their next five matches to close out September. Landmark Conference play gets underway at Moravian during the month, as the Royals open play in the conference on Sept. 24 in Bethlehem.
In October, Scranton will host four Landmark Conference matches at Fitzpatrick Field, along with two strong non-conference opponents in Dickinson (Oct. 12) and Haverford (Oct. 18).
The home regular season campaign finishes up on Oct. 22 vs. Goucher, while the regular season comes to a close the next week at Catholic (Oct. 29).
The 2016 Landmark Conference Playoffs are set to get underway November 2, with the Championship match slated for November 5.