Menlo enters the 2012 year with high expectations after a campaign for the ages unfolded before our very eyes in 2011. The program enjoyed its best season of all time in earning a California Pacific Conference championship, undefeated conference mark, and trip to the NAIA National Championship. The Oaks posted six individuals on the Cal Pac's All-Conference team, in addition to Head Coach Mike Keller taking home the conference's distinctive Coach of the Year honor. The season captured the hearts and minds of the entire Menlo community…but that was last year.
"The expectations are definitely higher than last year, but that's not a bad thing," said third year Head Coach Mike Keller on the season's early impressions. "The guys have high expectations of themselves which can help push us in following up last season with an even better one this year."
The Oaks will welcome back a significant part of their 2011 roster into this year's campaign, a crucial factor in Menlo's potential for a successful season. "We bring back a number of returners which means bringing back experience in big games," remarked Coach Keller. "Continuity and chemistry will be huge for us this year."
The returning group features four reigning Cal Pac first teamers, highlighted by the defending conference Player of the Year in Alex Palomarez, and the defending Cal Pac Newcomer of the Year in Eric Angell. Palomarez was as good as they come in goal for the Oaks last season, dominating the conference in what was his first year in Menlo blue and white. The senior from Fremont, CA tallied eight shutouts in 2011, a big reason why the stingy goal keeper was recognized as the Cal Pac's Defensive Player of the Week on five separate occasions, along with taking home the NAIA National Defensive Player of the Week honor in mid-October.
As far as Angell is concerned, the senior from nearby Redwood City will be shifted from the back line of the Oaks' defense to a mid-fielder. Angell's impressive speed and agility make him a force to be reckoned with, and the move should help bolster Menlo's offensive attack.
The dynamic duo of Palomarez and Angell merely scratches the surface of the squad's stellar core of returners. Senior forward Alex Vukic is a reigning Cal Pac first teamer, finishing second among last year's group with nine goals despite missing an entire month due to a left wrist injury. Eric Tilbury earned similar conference recognition as a shutdown defender, and don't sleep on senior midfielder Hugo Conchas. A Second Team All-Cal Pac recipient as a sophomore, Conchas brings tremendous leadership into his third go around with the Oaks. "Hugo has been a big contributor in each of his two years with the team," said the aforementioned Coach Keller. "You know he wants to go out with a bang, so I would look for Hugo to have a great year."
Missing from Menlo's championship plans are last year's one-two punch of Sam Zipperstein and Matheus Barbosa. Zipperstein led last season's Oaks with 11 assists, a mark that put him in the top 20 in the nation, while Barbosa racked up a team leading ten goals. "It's hard to replace both Sam and Matheus," said Keller on their departures. "Sam is a player that always ran to the whistle and it's difficult to replace someone like that. Matheus brought a great deal of passion to the team so he will be missed as well." Keller also cited Milo Kalama as a presence that wont' soon be forgotten. "Milo was not able to return, but he brought a lot of leadership and intangibles to the table," commented Keller on last year's junior from Oahu, HI.
Menlo will attempt to replace some of their key losses with an impressive pool of incoming talent. Junior transfers Andrew Cota and Bryce Nelson have the ability for an immediate impact, while freshmen Nicholas Krahnke and Andrew Nyberg show promise in their own right. Cota took home a spot on the Coast Conference First Team as a freshman at De Anza College, before transferring to NCAA DI University of San Francisco as a sophomore, while Nelson should help solidify the Oaks defense. As far as Krahnke is concerned, the Brentwood, CA native earned team MVP honors as well as a spot on the Bay Valley Athletic League All-First Team in high school, and Nyberg led Tigard High School in goals last year on his way to an All-League selection in the 6A Pacific Conference.
The Oaks open up the season as the California Pacific Conference's top ranked team in the North Division, edging out William Jessup 24 points to 18 in the Coaches Poll. The new look conference will feature a two-division format with Menlo contending with Jessup, Cal Maritime, and Pacific Union in the North, while the South is home to Marymount, Embry-Riddle, and Soka.
The Oaks will have the tall task of opening up on the road, traveling to Washington for consecutive road tilts against Evergreen State on Thursday, August 30th, and Northwest University on Saturday September 1st. The home opener is scheduled for September 7th against a tough Westmont squad, and the Cal Pac slate gets underway September 12th as the Oaks play host to Marymount.