Men's Soccer Approaches 2000 Season As One Of Optimism And Opportunity

Sept. 15, 2000

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Dolphins will approach the 2000 season as one of opportunity and optimism.

Fielding a team of both experienced and youthful players, first-year men's coach Mike Johnson inherits a team that has won regular season Trans America Athletic Conference Championships in each of the last two seasons, the TAAC Tournament Championship in 1998 and the TAAC East title in 1997.

"This program has been very successful over the years, and we expect to continue that trend in 2000," Johnson says. "In order for us to be successful, the entire squad will have to gel into one entity and the veteran players will have to help the younger guys adjust quickly to the college game."

The success of the 2000 Dolphins will be a direct result of the play of senior goalkeeper Petar Popovic, junior midfielder Hope Chiota and senior forward Mladen Dikic.

A starter in each of his previous three seasons, Popovic earned first-team All-TAAC and second-team All-South Region honors as a junior when he had 88 saves and a 1.59 goals against average (GAA). For his career, Popovic ranks second on the JU career list in wins (31) and GAA (1.37) while ranking third in saves (266).

"Petar is the best returning goalkeeper in the TAAC, and probably one of the best in the country," Johnson says. "His performance over the last three years speaks for itself. He has the ability to control and change the game, and if we are to be successful in 2000, Petar will play a big part in it."

As much as the Dolphins will rely on Popovic to control the defense, Chiota and Dikic will be counted on to set the pace for the offense.

Chiota will lead a young group of midfielders who hope to put the Dolphins on the board early and often. Chiota, who has played for Zimbabwe's national team, has 15 assists and nine goals during his first two seasons in a Dolphin uniform.

"Hope has a good understanding of the game and has outstanding ball-handling ability," Johnson says. "He's got great field vision and rarely makes a mistake. He also moves well without the ball and has an uncanny ability to distribute the ball to the open man for a high-percentage shot."

With Chiota setting up the offense, Dikic will be counted on to handle the bulk of the scoring. Dikic, a first-team All-TAAC and third-team All-South Region selection as a junior, led the team in 1999 with three match-winning goals while also ranking second on the squad in points (30) and goals (13).

"Mladen is an exceptional athlete who provides a constant scoring threat any time he's on the field," Johnson says. "He's a very smooth and technically sound player who has the ability to create and score goals under pressure."

But while Popovic, Chiota and Dikic bring eight and half years of starting experience, the rest of the squad has a combined 13 starts at the Division I level.

Sophomore Dov Ribnick joins true freshmen Nick Comerford, Sean Steed and Brett Surrency as the starters at defender. After missing the 1999 season with an injury, Ribnik stands as the most experienced defender, having played in four games as a freshman in 1998. Comerford, Steed and Surrency will have to learn on the job quickly if JU is to be successful.

"We're young and inexperienced in the defense, but we have a very talented group of players that have played well during the preseason," Johnson says. "They really have the potential to be a good back line and defensive unit."

Joining Chiota in the midfield are senior Justin Lloyd, junior Haefen Donaldson and sophomore Scot Shewey. Also expected to add depth to the midfield is junior college All-American Ernie Carino.

"Hope will be the leader of this young and potentially explosive group of midfielders," Johnson says. "But, the success of the offense will be determined by their ability to mature and gel as a unit."

Helping Dikic at the forward position will be sophomore Michael Blackburn, who saw time in 11 matches as a true freshman, and freshman Hamdy Bonin, a talented recruit from England who earned honors in soccer, rugby and track and field.

The Dolphins' schedule once again features the top opponents in the region as well as the nation, including nationally-ranked Maryland and Virginia whom JU opens the season against in the Coca-Cola Classic in Charlottesville, Va.

"The key ingredient of this team is to bridge team chemistry between the old and the new," Johnson says. "If the veterans can raise the level of play of the newcomers, then this team is going to be successful."