Upper 90 College APAC were very fortunate to gain an exclusive insight into the inner workings of Merrimack College's (NCAA D2), Men's Soccer Head Coach Tony Martone. One of the most successful coaches in not only Division II men's soccer coaching history, but in NCAA men's soccer history, Tony Martone concluded his 34th season at Merrimack College in the fall of 2015.
Martone and the Warriors lived up to high expectations in 2015, winning 15 games for the second straight year as well as advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Warriors finished second in the Northeast-10 Conference, winning nine of 13 conference games. The Navy and Gold won at least one NCAA Tournament game for the third time in the last four years.
U90: Last year saw a strong performance both on the pitch, reaching postseason play and academically. What do you believe were the key ingredients in your performance? What do you need to work on in 2016?
TM: In order to be successful you need to have talent but talent alone does not guarantee success. We are a closely knit program and we pride ourselves in being a soccer family on and off the pitch. We all work hard to be the best we can be and always put the team first. Playing as a team helps us overcome any obstacles that come our way.
U90: Merrimack has had a strong history of developing players athletically, technically and tactically. What key training approaches and methodologies do you bring to the Merrimack program, that you feel will transition the team to become even more competitive in the coming season and beyond?
TM: Although the college season is played in a fairly short window of time during the fall semester, we have developed a year round program to help our players develop in every aspect required to reach their full potential and beyond.
Specifically, there are three major components to what we do:
The regular season, the spring/off season program and a year round strength and conditioning program. The regular season starts at the beginning of July when the players will begin their summer fitness program that we send them. They usually report for pre season around August 15th and we have approximately 15-20 days to prepare for the start of the regular season.
Preseason is used to fine tune fitness but most importantly, to get the team technically, tactically and mentally ready to compete and to instill a winning mentality. The off season which is the spring semester, is primarily used to develop technique, to work with individuals to improve their weaknesses, to work in small groups as well as on team tactics.
The strength and conditioning program is a year round program but the amount of work and the type of work varies, depending on the time of year.
U90: Given you recruit players from international markets, how do you feel that the US college soccer environment develops a player for life after college from an academic and professional playing perspective?
TM: In general, the college experience in the US is very unique in that international students will have the opportunity to earn a degree while also playing soccer at a very high level. Specifically relating to Merrimack College, we are an exceptional academic institution and the degree that is earned by our student/athletes is well recognized and highly respected throughout the world which inevitably will open doors in the future to our graduates in whichever field of study they concentrate on. Our student/athletes will also have the unique experience of being able to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate. Those who make the necessary progress and have the ability and the ambition to play professional soccer will also have plenty of opportunities that we can help develop, both here in the US as well as in different parts of the world.
U90: Merrimack had a great year in the classroom in 2015, with players receiving All- American Honours. How do you help your players balance playing with their study. What pathways do programs like help student athletes continue a professional career post their collegiate playing career?
TM: It all starts with my philosophy that academics always comes first and soccer is a very close second. Whether domestic or international, we focus on prospects who are good students and who value education and earning a degree very highly. We have a number of steps in place to regularly monitor and to make sure that our players are and remain in good academic standards. Should anyone run into some difficulties, we have a tremendous support system in place to help anyone that may need it. I am proud to say that in addition to the individual recognition that you refer to, we have been been recognized by the NSCAA and have received the “Team Academic Award” for the past nine consecutive years. As far as helping our student/athletes beyond the college years, we have a number of resources available for them, including through our career center, through our alumni network as well as through my professional network
U90: Merrimack have another big season ahead for 2016, what are your goals for the team, and how will you be preparing them for the best possible shot of consistency in the NE-10 conference, and potentially the NCAA tournament?
TM: The process is pretty simple. We will continue to work hard at being the best we can be tactically, technically, physically and mentally, both individually and as a team. Over the years, we have established a model of consistency and excellence which we fully expect to continue. We have a good group of returning players and a very solid recruiting class which should once again give us the means to be extremely competitive and successful