Gilford’s Stefan Defregger recently finished his freshman season on the Dartmouth men’s soccer team. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
November 28, 2011GILFORD – While his first season as a collegiate player is officially in the books, Gilford's Stefan Defregger admits he still wants to be playing soccer.
The Dartmouth College freshman midfielder saw his Big Green squad knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Division I Tournament two weeks ago, as Dartmouth fell on the road to Big East Conference member Providence College, 1-0, to bring an 8-6-4 season to its end.
"Playing a really tough Providence team from the Big East, we knew it was going to be a tough match," said Defregger, who came off the bench in the game. "We didn't have our senior center back because he couldn't play due to too many yellow cards and that was a big loss. We just didn't play our best game but we battled pretty hard and it was definitely a really good experience to play in an NCAA Tournament game."
A win over Providence would've sent Dartmouth on the road against UC-Santa Barbara in round two, though Defregger and company stayed plenty busy with travel throughout the course of the season. The Green went to Dallas, Texas for a tournament hosted by SMU in September, with games against the host Mustangs as well as Tulsa. While Dartmouth led in both contests, they went winless during the brief trip south.
"That was the disappointing part of the trip but it was a cool experience to go down there with the team and play some of those schools that you don't see up here," Defregger said.
Defregger first stepped foot on campus for preseason in August, and he had a full month of just soccer to occupy him before school started in late September.
"It was definitely a change," he said of his first semester. "It was kind of nice having a month to play before school started. I got to know my teammates really well as a result of that. Once school started, it was definitely a little bit of a shock doing work again but after a few weeks I settled in. I never really got overwhelmed because we have weekly meetings with our coach to make sure we're doing alright and there are a lot of people taking care of us making sure we're staying focused."
Dartmouth got off to a 1-3-2 start before finally hitting its stride when the Ivy League season began in October. The Big Green finished 4-1-2 inside the Ivy, finishing with a share of the regular season crown with Brown and earning the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
"We were trying different things and systems in the beginning of the season to see what we were best at so it was kind of tough because our first six games, five were against Top 25 teams," said Defregger of a schedule that included Boston College, South Carolina and South Florida. "It was a tough stretch to do that in but it definitely helped us going into Ivy's. Our goal was to win the Ivy League and once we got into (league play), we were definitely playing our best soccer."
The freshman worked hard to earn playing time this fall, as he opened the year with some quality minutes including a start against Boston College in the second game of the year. But Defregger injured his ankle early on, temporarily losing his spot. He battled back however, and the minutes displayed that as he was given a start against UNH in Durham. Defregger led the team in shots with two on goal in the 3-0 loss to the Wildcats.
"It was definitely a battle to keep my head and not get discouraged after getting hurt," he said. "I had to tell myself that I'm only a freshman, I have to prove myself. That was definitely a change for me."
Dartmouth's lineup was full of veterans, as the team graduates eight seniors including six starters from this year's club. But Defregger's freshman class is loaded with nine members, and the future is bright in Hanover.
"We're going to be coming up and playing pretty good soccer in the next couple of years," he explained. "I think the coaches are really excited about the future."
While he's no stranger to high levels of competition thanks to his time with the Seacoast United Academy team amongst others, Defregger admits the D-I level takes some getting used to.
"It's a little bit faster…a lot more physical playing against kids who are sometimes more than four years older than you," he said. "It's definitely a change getting used to that physical aspect. I had to change my style of play a little bit because I'm not nearly as big as a lot of these guys. You have to be smarter about how you play and I think that helped me a lot. It reminded me of coming in as a freshman at Gilford (High School) as this tiny kid who had to get used to playing varsity."
And speaking of the Golden Eagles, Defregger said he kept a close watch on his former team's journey this fall, as the squad reached the Final Four before falling to Raymond in penalty kicks.
"I was following every game, hoping they would win in the semis because I was going to go to the finals," he said. "I was following them the whole way so it was kind of heartbreaking to hear the way they went out. But they exceeded everyone's expectations this year and I was really proud of those guys. But that's what's so positive about our program. I knew they were going to be okay after losing all those seniors because I see them in practice every day and our second 11 could've gone on that field last year and done great."
The relatively close proximity between Gilford and Hanover also allowed friends and family to take in Dartmouth games throughout the season, something Defregger enjoyed seeing from the pitch.
"A bunch of my teammates from Gilford came up there, especially the first couple of games," he explained. "My parents came to pretty much every game so it was definitely cool to have all those people around supporting me. That's a positive about going to Dartmouth, it's far enough to play where I'm not coming home all the time but it's close enough where people can make the trip."
Defregger now has some time to recover after his bruising rookie season, as he was home for Thanksgiving and will be back for Winter Break for a month starting next week. He hopes the time in Gilford will help recharge the battery for next season's slate of action.
"I'm definitely excited for a little break but I'd still love to be playing now," he admits. "Once winter workouts start I'll be lifting and I'm looking forward to getting a little stronger for next year."