May 5, 2006
DeKalb, IL -- Despite having upgraded the 2006 Northern Illinois University men's soccer schedule, fourth-year coach Steve Simmons has his Huskies aiming for a third consecutive winning season complete with a double-digit total for victories.
Simmons unveiled a 2006 agenda which includes: 1) a 2005 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight program, 2) a second NCAA Sweet 16 squad, 3) five 2005 NCAA tournament participants in total, 4) an 18-match slate that includes 10 programs which posted winning records in 2005, 5) two conference champions among a group of eight squads which were in the hunt for their respective league crowns last season, and 6) four competitive in-season tournaments including NIU's own Third Annual adidas / Baymont Inn Invitational. All of which should help Northern Illinois with its aim of returning to the NSCAA Top 25 poll, a feat the Huskies achieved for the first time since 1991 after climbing as high as 21st during their 11-6-2 run for 2005.
"This is the schedule I envisioned us playing when I took over in 2003," Simmons insisted. "I believe the strength of schedule should rate among the top 30, and when you add in the fact that the Mid-American Conference is ranked as the No. 8 league in the nation last year, I'm certain our RPI should be favorable. I'm really delighted with the schedule and looking forward to the challenges it presents as are our players.
"Our task now is to prepare ourselves to take on this challenge which offers very little room for error. We'll certainly find out what we're made of. Between our incoming recruiting class and the spring campaign we went through, which included winning the Illinois Governor's Cup for the third time in the last four springs, it appears that we're on the right track," Simmons added.
MAC champion University of Akron -- which was the nation's top-ranked side for the majority of 2005 -- once again looms large in the MAC race. The Zips, who went 18-1-4 before falling one win shy of the Final Four due to a loss to eventual national champion University of Maryland, are a featured home foe as Akron visits NIU's Huskie Soccer Field on October 14 for a Saturday 2 p.m. showdown.
The Huskies pay a visit to 2005 NCAA Sweet 16 team University of Notre Dame on Sept. 20 in addition to visiting a long-time intra-state foe on October 8 in Western Illinois University. WIU's Leathernecks were knocked out of the NCAA tourney by UND right before the Fighting Irish also ousted powerhouse Indiana University in round two. In addition to Akron, Notre Dame, and Western Illinois, Northern Illinois has dates with two other 2005 NCAA tournament participants starting with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee -- NIU's opponent for the John Lewang Memorial Cup, a travelling trophy between the two long-time soccer foes.
The other NCAA qualifier back on the Northern Illinois slate is Missouri Valley Conference champion Bradley University -- one of two MVC foes who comprise the Huskies' opposition in their annual adidas / Baymont Inn Invitational slated for September 8 and 10. That's third of four in-season tourneys for Simmons' crew as the campaign begins with two first-time opponents -- the University of Dayton and Hofstra University -- in the Aug. 25 and 27 Northwestern University-hosted Lakeside Classic.
While the Wildcats of Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin will be late-season single-game opponents, NIU faces two more Big Ten programs at the Michigan State University Tournament with contests against the University of Michigan and the host MSU Spartans. The other tournament promises "a dogfight" as Northern Illinois faces the host school in the University of Washington Husky Fever Classic as well as the University of Portland in a west coast foray.
Northern Illinois has eight starters among 15 returning letterwinners from the 2005 squad. While NIU lost First-Team All-MAC standout Paul Gabel as well as Second-Team All-MAC goalie Steve Goletz, the Huskie returnees include First-Team All-MAC performer Justin McGrane (Rockford / Boylan), Second-Team All-MAC players Jose Alvarado (Elgin / Burlington Central), and Chris Rufa (Downers Grove / South), plus Academic All-MAC selection Chris VanDuerm (Wheaton / Wheaton Warrenville South)
NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY 2006 MEN'S SOCCER SCHEDULE
(HUSKIE SOCCER FIELD HOME MATCHES IN BOLD AND CAPITALIZED)
Head Coach: Steve Simmons
WEDNESDAY 9 CARDINAL-BLACK INTRA-SQUAD MATCH AT NIU, 2 P.M. (Exhibition)
Tuesday 15 NIU at DePaul University, Chicago, IL, 1 p.m. (Exhibition)
NIU Alumni Weekend Exhibitions
SATURDAY 19 ALUMNI MATCH (ODD YEAR VERSUS EVEN YEAR ALUMS), 12:30 P.M. (Exhibition)
MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY AT NIU, 4 P.M. (Exhibition) / (DeKalb AYSO Day)
At Northwestern University Lakeside Classic
Friday 25 NIU vs. University of Dayton, 2 p.m.
Sunday 27 NIU vs. Hofstra University, 1:30 p.m.
At Michigan State University Tournament
Friday 1 NIU vs. University of Michigan, 12 p.m. (EDT)
Sunday 3 NIU at Michigan State University, 2:30 p.m. (EDT)
NIU adidas / Baymont Invitational
FRIDAY 8 DRAKE UNIVERSITY AT NIU, 4:30 P.M.
(Northwestern University vs. Bradley University, 2:15 p.m.)
SUNDAY 10 BRADLEY UNIVERSITY AT NIU, 1:15 P.M.
(Northwestern University vs. Drake University, 11 a.m.)
At University of Washington Husky Fever Classic
Friday 15 NIU at University of Washington, 7 p.m. (PDT)
Sunday 17 NIU vs. University of Portland, 11 a.m. (PDT)
Wednesday 20 NIU at University of Notre Dame, 7 p.m. (EDT)
SUNDAY 24 INDIANA UNIVERSITY PURDUE UNIVERSITY FORT WAYNE (IPFW) AT NIU, 1 P.M.--#
(NIU Camper Appreciation Day)
FRIDAY 29 BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY AT NIU, 4 P.M.--#
(John Lewang Memorial Cup Match)
Sunday 1 NIU at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1 p.m.
Friday 6 NIU at Western Michigan University, 3 p.m. (EDT) -- #
Sunday 8 NIU at Western Illinois University, 1 p.m.
SATURDAY 14 UNIVERSITY OF AKRON AT NIU, 2 P.M. -- # (NIU Senior Day)
Friday 20 NIU at University at Buffalo, 7 p.m. (EDT) -- #
SUNDAY 22 UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN AT NIU, 2:15 P.M.
Friday 27 NIU at Northwestern University, 3 p.m.
Mid-American Conference Postseason Tournament
Tuesday 31 First-round match has No. 5 seed at No. 4 seed, Times TBA
Mid-American Conference Postseason Tournament
Friday- 3- MAC Semifinals to be played at campus of regular-season champion,
Sunday 5 Times TBA
# -- Indicates Mid-American Conference Matches / All Times Local to Match Site
(For further information, please contact Steve Nemeth) --NIU--