In the wake of the best season for the men’s soccer program in decades, five Lafayette players were named to All-Atlantic Region teams last week. Junior defender Nick Hazel, sophomore midfielder Hale Lombard and junior forward Marcos Kitromilides were all named to the first team, while junior goalie Alex Sutton and senior forward Martin Ssessanga earned second team honors.
After an unprecedented year which saw the team miss out on their usual fall season, the Lafayette men’s soccer program still managed to have a highly-successful eight-game season this spring.
Finishing 7-1, and finding themselves at one point ranked among the top-25 college soccer teams, the team’s lone loss came in the Patriot League Championship at the hands of American University.
At the end of the Division I soccer season, the United Soccer Coaches organization named 11 players to both the NCAA Men’s Division I First and Second All-Atlantic Region teams. This year, five Leopards were recognized for their play – all of whom were also named to All-Patriot League teams. Hazel and Kitromilides made the first team, while Lombard, Sutton and Ssessanga earned second-team nods. Senior defender and captain Andrew Venezia was named to the league’s third team.
Hazel, the Patriot League Co-Defensive Player of the Year, made his presence felt on the field – contributing to a defense that allowed opponents to net just eight goals in as many games. He was the first Leopard to earn the Defensive Player of the Year award since 1996.
Hazel was a model of consistency this spring, starting all eight games and playing nearly every single minute of action. He also appeared in every game during his freshman and sophomore seasons, starting all but two. Last week, Hazel was also selected to the United Soccer Coaches All-America Third Team, making him the only Patriot League men’s soccer athlete to earn All-American status.
Lombard led the Leopards in goals this year, finding the back of the net four times and recording a team-high 20 shots. His total of nine points this spring also led the team and doubled that of the next closest teammate. Lombard was the lone scorer in the Patriot League Championship game for Lafayette, and also had a game-winning goal against Lehigh in the regular season finale.
Closing out the first team selections for the Leopards was Kitromilides, who finished with one goal and one assist this spring after being named to the All-Patriot League Second Team in fall 2019. Kitromilides was a key contributor with eight of his twelve shots on goal, and was credited with a game-winning goal against Army after a botched defensive play by the Black Knights.
Sutton and Ssessanga were both named to the second team, their first such honors.
Sutton started all eight games this spring and surrendered just eight goals, finishing with a 0.98 goals against average and a 0.619 save percentage to go along with seven wins. He also finished with two shutouts, against Bucknell and Lehigh, which bookended the season.
Ssessanga had two game-winning goals this spring, the first against Bucknell in the season-opener and the second, two weeks later, against Colgate. He finished tied for second on the team with two goals, and also contributed 11 shots with three of them on goal.
“Individual awards cannot be achieved without a stellar team performance,” Ssessanaga said.
The Leopards, who recently added a six-person class of 2025, will look to build on the momentum of their 7-1 season with a mixture of old and new faces.
With the new NCAA expanded eligibility rules allowing athletes an additional year of competition, the Leopards actually won’t be losing anyone; the four current seniors, Ssessanaga, Venezia, defender Kyle Robbins and goalie Asher Carlson will all be back next fall.
“Depth is going to be key in the upcoming season,” Ssessanaga said. “Incoming players will create more competition, but at the end of the day everyone being bought into the system and believing in ourselves will see us achieve success next season.”
Assuming continued progress with the pandemic, the Leopards should have a more normal regular season that kicks off in late August. The team will carry high expectations coming off back-to-back Patriot League Championship game appearances in 2019 and 2021.