Blount Press Row

Best Ever

BPR compares tourney-bound Scots with all-time greats

Maryville College All-American Caleb Lucas holds aloft some of the hardware after the Scots defeated N.C. Wesleyan for the USA South Athletic Conference championship last Saturday. Photos by Cindy Nowlin

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Jody Tootle could do it all.

Built like a football halfback, he could sprint like Bo Jackson, cut like Barry Sanders and once gave the greatest answer of all time on how to beat the wall on a free kick.

“Just aim for their heads,” he said. “God will make them move.”

Chris Fernandez checks up against Wesleyan.

Chris Fernandez checks up against Wesleyan.

Thing is, a winnable argument could be made Tootle wasn’t even the best player on the 1997 Maryville College men’s soccer team.

Fellow All-American Chris Reid still owns the Maryville record for career goals.

If Tootle was Bo Jackson, Reid was Megatron.

He put home 61 goals for Maryville in four seasons, a mark no Scot since has even approached.

So who’s better?

The Reid/Tootle group, the first for Maryville to reach the NCAA tournament?

Or the current Scots (18-2), who open the 2016 tournament against Kenyon College on Saturday in Lynchburg, Va.?

Kickoff is 3:30 p.m.

“I’ve tried to compare them,” Maryville coach Pepe Fernandez said, “and what I’ve come up with is it’s like comparing your own kids. They’re your kids. They’re all good.

“Messi or Renaldo, Frazier or Foreman?

“There’s no wrong answer.”

Caleb Lucas deals between a pair of Bishop defenders.

Lucas deals between a pair of Bishop defenders.

In one respect, the 2016 Scots, paced by All-American forward Caleb Lucas and conference tournament most valuable player Tim Baker at the front, all-conference goalkeeper Ryan Jorgensen and all-conference defender Thomas Palmer at the back, have no peer.

Maryville’s 18 wins this season are the best in program history. The USA South Athletic Conference Tournament championship, won in a 2-1 thriller on Baker’s late goal last Saturday, was the first for Maryville in the league.

Baker is en route to putting the program’s record for assists in a season out of reach for all future Scots, his 16 helpers already two better than the previous record holder.

Let’s start with the defense, though.

Jorgensen, a former Division I signee out of Maryville High, transferred to be closer to home. Getting the first-team all-conference nod says a lot about the 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore’s talent for the position. His statistics — 19 goals yielded in 1,539 minutes minding Maryville’s net — say a lot more.

Then there’s the defense in front of him.

“An interesting thing about them is they’re all converted midfielders,” Fernandez said.

Senior defenders Hayden Puryear and Palmer are both two-time all-conference selections.

Palmer “still calls himself a midfielder,” Fernandez said. “He was even our leading scorer one year at center back.”

Freshman Jason Elmore is listed as a forward on the Maryville roster. Sophomore Nate Long completes a back four likely the best the Scots have ever fielded, and that’s including the Lassister brothers who captained the ’97 defense.

“It gives us something different back there,” Fernandez said.

Tim Baker taps home the winning goal in the conference championship match, lift the Scots into this weekend's NCAA tournament.

Tim Baker taps home the winning goal in the conference championship match, lifting the Scots into this weekend’s NCAA tournament.

Baker’s the show in midfield. The senior from Catholic stands a good chance of joining Lucas on the All-American rolls at the close of the season. If so, these Scots would also tout two such honorees.

Better than Tootle?

Well …

Let’s move on.

As you continue forward, the argument for the 2016 Scots as the best of all time begins to gather steam.

Junior Cody VanKerschaever is “so smooth and technical on the ball,” Fernandez said. “He can play out of trouble in tight situations. On the ball, he’s just first class.”

Fernandez’s nephew and former Scot Paul Weick gets the nod from many as the most technical player to wear Maryville garnet, but, since we’re talking all-time best team here, we’ll call this one a push. Reid or Lucas?

It’s more a question of what’s around them.

Ryan Jorgensen returns the ball to play after a save.

Ryan Jorgensen returns the ball to play.

Reid had the flat out foot speed to outrun any defender he ever faced. His breakaway gate enabled Fernandez to play with a single forward for much of Reid’s four seasons. Where Reid gets the nod on speed, Lucas is the undisputed master when it comes to touch.

That’s not what makes Lucas so different, though, Steve Feather, Lucas’ coach at Maryville High, said.

“He just keeps coming at you,” Feather said. “He will not stop.”

Fernandez echoes the sentiment.

“That’s the key,” he said. “He’s got that drive and work ethic where he never stops. He’s got great balance. He’s good with either foot.

“You can’t take a play off (defending) Caleb.”

Lucas’ 21 goals this season rank third all-time behind pacesetter Randy Evans (28) and Brain Moore (22). Add 10 assists, and the former Rebels’ 52 points also rank third on the Maryville’s single-season tables. Unlike Reid and the others, however, Lucas has a wealth of goal-scoring support to either side, not the least of which is Fernandez son, Chris.

The Scots fell back, 1-0, to Wesleyan early in the championship match. The Bishops sport a roster with a heavy international influence. (Translation: That early goal had a good chance to stand for the duration.)

Chris Fernandez brought Maryville hopes back to fever pitch when he collected in midfield, spotted the Wesleyan keeper well off his line at the top of the box and lofted a perfectly placed shot into the roof of the netting.

The 2016 Scots set a program record for wins in a season.

The 2016 Scots set a program record for wins.

The Fernandez equalizer made it seven Scots with at least three goals on the year. Baker, 13 goals, Andrew Sullivan and Vankerschaever, eight each, Thomas, six, and John Rakhmonberdiev, five, make for great balance. Fifteen Scots have at least a goal.

The Reid/Tootle group could score, but like that?

There are a number of Scots whose singular achievements rank with the best all-time. Former goalkeeper Peter Rosenblad comes mind. He allowed 13 goals — total — and shut out nine during an unforgettable 2001 season.

Adam Gutzman let in three and shut out 11 five years ago!

Like many Maryville teams of his era, Rosenblad wasn’t on a team in a conference. At-large NCAA tournament bids were almost impossible to come by, which makes the achievement of the Tootle/Reid grouping being Maryville’s first hard to ignore.

Still, based on overall talent, it’s 2016 that gets our vote as the best ever at Maryville.

We can see Reid and Tootle burning everything we ever wrote about them right now. Wait, though, there’s a catch.

One record stands above all others when it comes to ranking the best ever men’s soccer team at Maryville. The 2005 Scots are the only ones in program history to reach the round of 16 in the national tournament.

If 2016 can reach that milestone, end of discussion.

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