The men's soccer team heads into the 2011 season in a highly enviable position. For the first time in program history, the Bowdoin men's soccer team is ranked third in the country in the National Soccer Coaches of American Preseason Poll.

The Polar Bears have much to be proud of coming off their best season in school history. They won a record 15 games, a trip to the NESCAC championship game, and a trip to the NCAA Division-III Final Four for first time ever.

This year's team promises to still pack a punch, with five of last year's seven leading scorers returning, along with 12 veterans of the NCAA semifinal game against Lynchburg last year.

Though he acknowledges the team's considerable achievements last season, Coach Fran O'Leary is keeping his focus forward.

"Last year was great, but that's history now," he said. "The key for us is how we grow. If we grow complacent and lazy, the NESCAC is such a tight league that we could fall back to sixth place really quickly. We have to be committed to growing in confidence and skill."

"We have to remain calm and positive, as that was the key to last year's team," he added.

Both O'Leary and his players cite the squad's experience, skill, and spirit on and off the field as its key strengths.

"We have a group of unselfish, unspoiled lads who work hard for each other," said O'Leary. "That's a very good trait and will stand us in good stead. We also have a lot of guys who've been around for bad results and have always shown an ability to rebound."

Forward Michael Gale '13 echoed this feeling, applauding his teammates' work ethic.

"We've got a real mentality and are ready to work hard," he said. "You can't have a great season if you don't have a great group of guys playing with you."

The men's soccer team opens its 2011 campaign on the road against NESCAC rival Wesleyan this Saturday.

The Cardinals have plenty of reasons to seek revenge after last season, for Bowdoin shut them out 1-0 in the regular season and adding insult to injury with a dramatic 2-1 comeback victory in the NESCAC semifinals last November.

Coach O'Leary expressed his admiration for the Wesleyan team and stressed the importance of the match as a test for Bowdoin.

"Wesleyan is one of the top teams in the conference," he said. "They have a lot of returning players, they're well coached, and they're very well organized. I think they'll prove a challenging opponent that will help us figure out our strengths and weaknesses. "

"If we can come out of Wesleyan with a win, I think we'll be in a great spot going forward in conference play," he added.

Gale echoed O'Leary on the team's prospects going into its first match.

"I think Wesleyan is a great first game for us," he said. "They're a really strong team, are very athletic and fast.

"I think it will be a great test to see what this new team is made of and what we can expect for the rest of the season," O'Leary added.

After visiting Connecticut to take on Wesleyan, the team has its home opener against the Gordon College Fighting Scots at Pickard Field on Tuesday, September 13 at 4:30 p.m.