Arrayed in a formidable line, the Harvard men's soccer team exited its preseason afternoon practice like soldiers delivering a bayonet charge.
But this year's Crimson attack stems partially from defense-of the Ivy League title, which Harvard won last year. The other half of the campaign is qualifying for and advancing through the NCAA tournament.
In either battle, solidarity is the key.
"If we can be healthy, this is a good group to advance in the tournament," coach Steve Locker said. "We're a good team in the true sense of the word 'team.' The boys are an honest, hard-working and tight group."
Headlining the returners is senior captain Tom McLaughlin, who led the Crimson in scoring last year with 13 goals and 15 assists, for 41 points. Junior goalie Jordan Dupuis, who thwarted opponents last year (11-1, 0.78 goals-against average), will provide additional leadership from the net.
"We don't have the depth of last year, but our teamsmanship, our fight will pay dividends," Locker said. "I just don't want us to threaten ourselves. I don't want to push the team too hard."
The schedule will pose enough of a threat. Penn, against whom Harvard opens its season on Sept. 13, returns all 11 of last year's starters.
"Penn kicked butt in the Ivies," Locker said.
Harvard faces similarly daunting foes when it travels to Stanford for the Stanford/Nike Tournament from Oct. 3-5, where it will play Stanford and nationally-ranked Cal-Berkeley. Locker predicts that Stanford will also have a national rank before the season ends.
Despite this imposing gauntlet, optimism prevails among the team.
"Coach Locker has brought us in with big expectations," McLaughlin said. "I want us to win another Ivy championship, and go further in the NCAAs."
Last year's thrilling tournament run certainly provides incentive. The Crimson rallied for three goals in the waning seconds to stun B.U. 3-2, before losing to Hartford 3-2, in overtime.
Eight players on that 16-2 Harvard squad have graduated, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Will Kohler, whose nine goals and 10 assists placed second in team scoring. Only three seniors and five juniors return.
"We may be a little young," McLaughlin said. "But we have a good, solid young infield and forwards who can finish."
Senior Toure McCluskey has scored consistently in practice, and junior Zach Viders and sophomore Juan Carlos Montoy provide strength up top.
Additionally, three of the four backs from last year return. Locker calls senior Ricky Le and sophomore Andrew Lundquist, who will sit out the opener due to a red card, two of the best backs in the nation. Sophomore Paul Cantagallo will replace John Vrionis '97 at stopperback.
Freshman Ryan Kelley, filling in for injured junior Lee Williams at sweeper, has exhibited intriguing talent.
"Ryan is one of the better freshman products I've seen," Locker said. "He can play anywhere in the park."
Kelley provides additional strength for a team Locker hopes will position itself for a second tournament run.
"Last year, the Ivies weren't very strong," McLaughlin said. "They're pretty wide open this year. It should be a good fight."