It’s not customary to start the season against one’s biggest rival, but that’s exactly what the men’s soccer team is doing tomorrow.

The Bulldogs kick off their 2001 schedule against Harvard at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium tomorrow at 7 p.m. in a season that, with a promising crop of freshman recruits and an expanded 48-team NCAA tournament draw, holds an exceptional amount of promise for the Elis.

The NCAA announced in a press release Aug. 29 that it would expand the tournament draw, which should make it easier for teams from the Ivy League to gain entry into the tournament. The Bulldogs return eight of 11 starters from last year’s squad and 14 of 17 lettermen, which should further improve their chances.

Captain Brian Lavin ’02 will lead a squad that finished 9-7-1 last year, but is without goalie Danny Moss ’01, who graduated last year.

With Moss’ departure, head coach Brian Tompkins will look to Lavin and midfielders Steven Gibbons ’03 and Stuart Yingst ’03 to be leaders both on and off the field.

“[Lavin, Gibbons and Yingst] are not only great players but also good leaders by example,” said Tompkins, who is entering his sixth year at the head of the program. “We need them to elevate the level of play on the field. If they do that then we can do some damage as a team.”

Gibbons and Yingst are currently out with a hip flexor strain and a mild MCL strain, respectively, but Tompkins expects them to see action Saturday.

The Elis are also without last year’s leading scorer, forward Jay Alberts ’03, who is recovering from mononucleosis. Alberts, who tallied 17 goals in 17 games last season, will sit out for at least three weeks.

Without Alberts, the Bulldogs plan to change their offensive strategy.

“We’ve been playing a lot more direct in practice and will be looking for a more counter-attack type of offense instead of developing the play,” Gibbons said.

Bringing support to the weak midfield will be Andrew Dealy ’05 and Ryan Raybould ’05, as well as defender John Skalecki ’05, who are part of the freshman contingent that may see action Saturday.

On the flip side, the Crimson enter Saturday after a competitive preseason where no position will be secured until Saturday.

“There are no definite starters,” assistant coach Gary Crompton said. “The competition is good though because it makes us stronger. It can only help our team.”

Harvard will look to forward and team captain Nick Lenicheck ’02 to help lead the attack, Crompton said. Lenicheck scored one goal and tallied two points last season.

No matter what the outcome of Saturday’s match, both teams will have to worry less about getting into the NCAA tournament draw. Now, instead of the top two teams in the Ivy League, the top three or four teams may have a chance to break into the tournament.

While Tompkins likes the Bulldogs’ chances to get a spot in the tournament, his first priority is personal performance.

“I’m not big on outcome goals,” Tompkins said. “It’s more about performance goals. Our goal is always to play well in the league and that brings the pleasures of the NCAA tournament.”

After weeks of preparation in the preseason, the Bulldogs are ready to concentrate their efforts against a foe outside of their own team.

“Everyone is real excited,” Dealy said. “It’s about as important as it gets for us. Of course I’m nervous, but right now I just wish it was 7 p.m. on Saturday.”

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