S. Burlington Wednesday, June 24th
BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Whenever the new college sports season does begin, the University of Vermont will have a new conference rival, though, in some sports, it could take some time before the Highlanders make their mark in America East.
In basketball, for instance, the NJIT women's and men's teams have combined for just two winning seasons in the last five years, both on the men's side. The NJIT men are 6-5 versus America East opponents over that time, the women are 1-8, including 0-4 against Vermont.
However, it could be a different story on the soccer pitch. The NJIT men's soccer team is coming off the best season in program history. In 2019, the Highlanders won the program's first Atlantic Sun regular season title, then beat Florda-Gulf Coast, led by former UVM head coach Jesse Cormier, in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game to earn the program's first trip to the NCAA Tournament, finishing as the eighth highest scoring team in the country.
"Being a NCAA tournament team, they're one of the top 50 or 60 programs, and that instantly makes an impact on our schedule.", says Dow. "Having that automatic strength of schedule booster is awesome."
This fall NJIT returns eight starters, including the Atlantic Sun player of the year, Rene White, who scored 17 goals, tied for the fourth most in the country, as well as Atlantic Sun goalkeeper of the year and reigning freshman of the year.
NJIT joins an America East that was already one of the most balanced men's soccer conference in the country. In the past five seasons, seven of the conference's eight teams have reached the America East title game at least once.
With all that, adding NJIT to the mix would seem to be a tough pill to swallow for UVM men's soccer coach Rob Dow, but Dow sees the Newark, New Jersey-based school's arrival as a positive on a number of levels.
"Having a school in and around the New York City metropolitan area, having a lot of alumni in that area that can get out and see us play a little more frequently, is exciting.", says Down. "And I think it's also a great experience for our guys to go down to the New York City area and be able to play."
And as far as the new challenge is concerned, UVM junior and Burlington native Evan Rouleau delcares that most universial of athlete's credos..'bring it on'.
"I love it.", says Rouleau. "It's going to be more competition in our conference than there already is, and just putting us on a more national scale."