Steve Shaw won't say that he expected this kind of start from his Christopher Newport men's soccer team.
The Captains are crazy young. They had positions to fill from the 2008 team that was one agonizing minute from reaching the NCAA Division III Final Four.
Plus, Shaw has coached long enough to know that assuming results, particularly from college kids, is a guaranteed recipe for indigestion.
"If you can teach young people to be selfless and appreciate being a part of something greater than yourself, you've got a chance," Shaw said. "I think we've got a chance."
Three weeks into the season, CNU appears to have picked up where it left off a year ago. The Captains are 5-1 and ranked sixth in the nation, according to the latest soccer coaches association poll.
They are deep and athletic, a freewheeling band of brothers who live and train together and seem to be unaware that they shouldn't be this good this soon.
"Expectations are high, based on what they did last year," Shaw said. "I think that's added to the effort and what they're willing to give."
The Captains host Marietta College of Ohio tonight at 7 as part of the abbreviated Joe Pombriant/CNU Classic (one team backed out late in the summer and Shaw was unable to find a replacement, so CNU will play only one game this weekend).
CNU's present success starts with consecutive top-shelf recruiting classes. The roster is typically Peninsula-heavy, only deeper and more athletic. Nearly all of the Captains' contributors attracted at least some Division I interest, but landed on Shoe Lane because of prior relationships, success, facilities or interest in the school.
Shaw mined his connections with the Williamsburg-based Virginia Legacy Soccer Club and landed 11 players from the club in the past two years. Their talent and familiarity with each other helped compensate for their inexperience at the college level.
Shaw supplemented local recruiting with a few players from out of the area and out of state.
Nine of 11 starters in last weekend's tournament at Virginia Wesleyan were freshmen and sophomores, as were nine of 10 reserves who played. Only five of 30 players on the roster are upperclassmen.
"There were a few nerves at the beginning," said captain Clif Kipper, a sophomore-eligible midfielder from Gloucester. "But there's a lot of talent and everybody came together pretty well."
Sophomore forward Winston Mattheisen is emblematic of the Captains' youth movement. The former Jamestown High star led CNU last year with 16 goals and 35 points as a freshman and again is the leading scorer thus far this season, with four goals and nine points.
"I thought I would just play a role with the team last year," Mattheisen said. "I didn't expect to get as much playing time as I did. But we had some injuries and things just kind of fell my way."
The Captains' confidence also comes, in part, from their only loss. CNU fell to defending NCAA champ and D-III power Messiah (Pa.) 2-1 in the Virginia Wesleyan tournament, in a game that was eerily similar to their NCAA final-eight matchup from a year ago.
Messiah scored late in regulation to tie, then won in overtime. Messiah returned the bulk of its NCAA title team, while CNU had seven new starters and only two upperclassmen on the field for much of the game.
"If we lose 2-1 to the national champs now," Kipper said, "imagine what we can do another month down the line."
CNU's depth has permitted Shaw to play more than 20 guys per game, unprecedented for him. Competition in practice keeps players sharp and motivated, while the prospect of playing time keeps them happy. They have withstood injuries and illness with zero drop-off.
That's why the Captains believe they belong in the top 10 and that a deep NCAA run is realistic.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Kipper said. "At the beginning of last year, no one would have thought that we could go as far as we did, but the realization came about because of what we did and how hard we worked. If we continue to get better, we can win a championship."
NSCAA Division III men's soccer poll Released TuesdaySchoolW-L-T1. Messiah (Pa.)4-0-02.Amherst (Mass.)1-0-03.Ohio Wesleyan6-0-04. Hobart (N.Y.)4-0-05.Loras (Iowa)4-0-16.CNU 4-1-07. UC Santa Cruz4-0-18.North Park (Ill.)5-0-09.Swarthmore (Pa.)4-0-010.Stevens Tech (N.J.)4-1-0CNU Classic Today WHO: Marietta (Ohio) at CNU.
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Captains Field.
Saturday WHO: Methodist vs. Marietta.
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Captains Field.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun