Men's Soccer

Soccer Freshman And Amherst Native Michael Connolly Went To South America Before Coming Home To UMass

Michael Connolly will aid the Minutemen in the defensive back row

Michael Connolly will aid the Minutemen in the defensive back row

Sept. 4, 2005

AMHERST, Mass. - UMass via South America Saturday, September 03, 2005 By DICK BAKER

Michael Connolly is always ahead of schedule, which is why he graduated early from Amherst-Pelham Regional High School.

He was slated to graduate in 2003, but was all through in November of 2002. The extra time was planned for what was supposed to be a six-month stint in South America, to play soccer and take more classes to ready for college.

"The six months turned out to be two and a half years," Connolly said of the enjoyable experience.

So after becoming a world traveler of sorts by playing soccer in Brazil and then Argentina, where did Connolly decide to go to school?

Right in his own backyard.

Connolly is a promising freshman on the University of Massachusetts men's soccer team, a side that he has been watching since he was a kid.

"I've known him (coach Sam Koch) for years, and I've been to his camps. I have faith in him."

Connolly and the Minutemen open the 2005 season tomorrow at Michigan State. The Minutemen hope to improve on last year's 8-9-2 (5-4-2 Atlantic 10) season, which saw them open with three straight losses before going 8-4-2 in their next 14 matches. But consecutive losses at the end to Duquesne and Rhode Island prevented them from making the A-10 tournament.

The UMass newcomer won't be at his high school role of center-midfield because the Minutemen have experienced people at the midfield spot, but he will see time at outside back. In South America, he played in the back, so the adjustment won't be as great.

"He's a great kid, he works hard, and is always willing to learn," Koch said. "If anything, we have to try and slow him down."

Connolly already has about a year and a half of college credits from the courses he took in South America, but he'll have four years of athletic eligibility.

Connolly likes what he sees of his first UMass team, and being so familiar with the program's history, he can speak with some authority.

"I've been waiting for this chance for years, it's the best team I've seen yet."

Connolly plans to major in political science, and is enrolled in the school's honors program.

UMass returns seven starters from last year, and nine other players who saw a good deal of match time.

Senior co-captain Oral Bullen enters the season with 45 career points (18 goals, 9 assists), only 16 away from reaching the top 10 on the school's career point list. Koch said one of the keys to the season will be the amount of goal-scoring help Bullen can get.

"It's a mystery," Koch said of how he thinks the team will do this season. "We know we can keep the ball out of the goal, but we'll need others to score to take the pressure off of Oral to give him some room."

Senior Eric Billitier, sophomore Greg Cirillo, sophomore Sam Griswold, and freshman Mike DeSantis are among those looking to spark the offense.

Junior Nick Billman will be the starting goalkeeper as the Minutemen move away form the rotating system of the last couple of years.

Senior co-captain Craig Canavan of Chicopee , senior Tim Kitchell and sophomore Doug Rappaport return as starters on defense.




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