It has been a season of many successes and few failures for the Fairfield men’s soccer team. As they head into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, the Stags are riding a three-game shutout streak and seem to be playing their best soccer of the season.

Fairfield felt the crushing losses to Harvard and Loyola, both on their home turf, which ended two impressive winning streaks (13 games unbeaten at home and 14 games unbeaten in the MAAC regular season). But the team bounced back to win both the MAAC regular season and tournament championships. With three straight shutout wins, the Stags clinched the regular season title and won both playoff games.

After beating Niagara 2-0, the Stags gained revenge over Loyola with a 3-0 win and then won their first MAAC championship since 1999 with a 1-0 win over St. Peter’s. The three wins moved the Stags back into the national top 25, as they earned the 23rd ranking this week.

Head Coach Carl Rees feels that the team’s chemistry and talent helped achieve important goals this year.

“The team is a good blend of tenacity and creativity,” he said. “The personalities are strong and focused on what is important within the game and off the field. I think that we have had success this year because these guys have tried to do the right thing every day in training and in each game.”

“At times a season can be difficult and testing and the lads have met each challenge square on and dealt with it,” Rees added.

Fairfield’s dynamite defense and potent offense, as well as the team’s great chemistry, have led them into the NCAA tournament. Fairfield’s senior leaders Alex Cunliffe and Mike Troy have been major players for the school since their freshman years and after waiting four seasons for the chance to win the MAAC tournament, they accomplished their goal on Sunday.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth while – every minute of it,” Cunliffe said.

Rees agreed with Cunliffe, stating that the two seniors have led the team to this point.

“That’s been four years coming for these guys,” he said. “You see the final product here, but what you don’t see is the hard work that they’ve put in since August, led by Cunliffe and Troy.”

The Stags also received awards during the MAAC post-season awards ceremony at the Trumbull Marriot on Thursday. Tom Skara, a junior defender, was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and was also named to the All-MAAC First Team. Joining Skara on the All-MAAC First Team were Cunliffe and Jon Paul Francini`08. Francini is ranked 20th in the country with 0.73 goals against average and finished the season with six shutouts.

“It feels great,” Skara said. “It’s always a great honor to be recognized for your hard work on the field. I couldn’t have won this award with out my teammates. We have all worked together to be the best possible team.”

Assistant Coach Patrick Wiseman said Skara definitely deserves the award.

“His mentality has been great all year, and he has proved that he is a top defensive player,” Wiseman said.

Three Stags were named to the All-MAAC second team, namely Troy, Sam Bailey ’08 and Tom Clements ’09. Troy and Clements anchored the defense along with Skara, who is ranked 23rd in the country in goals against average with 0.77. Bailey finished second on the team with six goals, five of which were game winners.

Two freshmen were also named to the MAAC All-Rookie team. Christian Uy, whose five goals were third highest on the team, and David Piedrahita who added three assists. Piedrahita played a major role in the team’s strong defense, using his speed and technical skills to cover a lot of ground in the midfield.

Rees said he is proud of his team and its success this season.

“They deserve to be champions and are a true reflection of what our University represents,” he said.

“Thanks to all the people that helped us along the way from Father von Arx to all the administrative staff and, of course, the students who showed up at our games throughout the season,” Rees added.

The Stags will look to continue their successes this Saturday against UConn.

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