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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 9, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 6
The Streak Continues

Goalkeeper Danny Coble, a senior, is a star player on a Johns Hopkins team that Coach Matt Smith has made into a perennial national power.
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

Powerhouse soccer team aims for 50th straight conference win at home

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Even the most casual of fans could tell that coach Matt Smith was far from thrilled heading into halftime versus the Dickinson College Red Devils on Sept. 30. The Blue Jays men's soccer team, ranked No. 13 in the nation, was locked in a scoreless tie that night at Homewood Field, where they had been undefeated in their last 49 conference games.

Clearly matters could be worse, but what was troubling Smith was the team's inconsistent play, poor midfield tackling and the failure of his typically high-powered offense to mount any sustained attacks.

"Our halftime conversation was interesting ... and colorful, put it that way," said Smith, who is quick with a laugh.

Whatever was said, worked. Two minutes into the second half, Hopkins scored the go-ahead goal, and one score was all Hopkins would need due to its tight defense and the stellar play of senior goalkeeper Danny Coble, the reigning Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Week who had not allowed a goal in six straight games.

More importantly, the conference home streak continued.

Once again, Coach Smith has the Blue Jays playing at a very high level: 11-1 as of press time on Friday. The team, which lost seven starters to graduation and has several underclassmen in prominent starting roles, had won seven straight going into this weekend's game, including a 10-0 waxing of Keystone College on Sept. 18.

Smith said these young Jays are ahead of schedule.

If Smith's track record is any gauge, the success shouldn't be too surprising.

Coach Matt Smith
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS

The winningest coach in the team's history, Smith, now in his 14th season, has a stunning 214-39-17 overall record and has turned Johns Hopkins into a perennial national power. Among coaches in any NCAA division with a minimum of 10 years' experience, Smith ranks seventh all-time and third in winning percentage among active coaches.

A graduate of Towson University, where he was a standout player, Smith joined Hopkins in 1993 after two years as an assistant coach at his alma mater.

Smith, only 28 at the time, inherited a team that had won just three games and scored a mere 12 goals in the prior season. He said the decision to come here, however, was a no-brainer. For one, things could only get better.

"Being an assistant [coach] is good experience, but you want to be the one making the decisions," Smith said. "So I ran when [the job] was open."

The turnaround was quick. In his first year, Smith led the team to its first winning season in three years. Next year, the Blue Jays came within one goal of winning the national championship, losing 0-1 in overtime to Bethany University in the NCAA Division III finals.

"It's probably the only game we should have won in that whole tournament because every other team completely outplayed us, but somehow we won. And in the finals we outplayed that team, and we lost," he said. "That's soccer."

Since then, the men's soccer team has continued a winning tradition under Smith, with seven trips to the NCAA tournament, five Centennial Conference championships and five appearances in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament. Last season, the Blue Jays finished 14-2-5 and secured the ECAC South championship.

In particular, Johns Hopkins has been nearly impossible to beat at home, with a .900 winning percentage under Smith.

The home crowds at Homewood Field, between 150 and 500 strong, are vocal and enthusiastic, gasping at every goal opportunity and quick with a thunderous compliment to a player or a polite (ahem) inquiry for the referee.

Smith said he thinks one key reason for the success at home is that not having to travel cuts down on the player stress.

"I really think that Hopkins kids are under a lot more of a pressure cooker [than at other schools] to do well academically," Smith said. "After our McDaniel game, and this is a typical story, the team captain said no music on the bus and no television because he had a test on Monday to study for. And this is a Saturday and only a one-hour trip home."

Throughout Smith's tenure, the team has produced top-notch players and students. Several Jays have been scouted by and offered contracts from professional teams, and one player, Ryan Kitzen (2002), made it onto the U.S. National B team.

Smith lauds the quality of play in Division III men's soccer, stressing the negligible disparity between all NCAA divisions. In fact, in exhibition games, Johns Hopkins has beaten several perennial Division I powers and even some professional teams.

He said that people who head to Homewood Field to check out the team are in for a treat.

"I think we're exciting," he said. "The environment at Homewood Field at night is a pleasant experience, and we play an attractive style of soccer. As a coach, I would rather us win a game 5-2 than 1-0. We want to push ahead and make it a fun experience for our players and a fun experience for those in the stands. I think people are shocked at the level of play when they do get to a game. They have no idea it's going to be this good, and that is always the best compliment to get from people."

They will also see some great goalkeeping.

Coble, due to an injury to the team's only other goalie, has played every minute in goal this season for Hopkins. He posts a 0.33 goals against average and a .918 save percentage, and has eight shutouts to his credit. Smith jokes that during practice teammates treat Coble with kid gloves and make sure he comes out in one piece.

"What is amazing about Dan is that, even as a nonfield player, he is the most fit kid we have," Smith said. "He also has tremendous leadership ability. He's vocal and encouraging. When he got his chance to start, you knew he wanted to keep it, and he has excelled."

Coble, who spent the majority of the past three seasons as the No. 2 keeper, said he was a bit nervous going into the season, but starting off the 2006 campaign with five games in eight days left him no time to dwell on it too long.

He said that Coach Smith also has done his part to boost his, and the team's, confidence.

"He knows the game. I think his winning percentage here says it all," Coble said. "And he knows how to coach the tight games and tight situations. When he sees we're not playing at our best, he knows just how to set us up to get back in the game."

Sounds like a recent halftime talk.

The Blue Jays have three more regular season games at home: Swarthmore at 4 p.m. on Oct. 14, Arcadia at 4 p.m. on Oct. 18 and Washington College at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25.


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