Three years ago, the University of Akron traveled to North Carolina to face national powers UNC and Wake Forest. The upstart Zips, with a young head coach and plenty of promise, were put in their place -- losing 3-1 to Wake and 3-0 to UNC.
This past weekend, the Zips, all grown up and a national power themselves, returned to North Carolina and dealt UNC a 3-0 defeat and blanked Wake 2-0.
"It does say a little about the potential of this group," Akron coach Caleb Porter said. "Our players need to be humble, stay hungry and get better -- we'll take the results, but we're not going to act as if we are there yet because we're certainly not."
Akron, coming off a national runner-up performance last year, which included a penalty kick shootout win over UNC in the NCAA College Cup semifinals, started 2010 as the preseason No. 1 in every major ranking. While the weekend victories reinforce the team's top ranking and earns valuable RPI points, Porter is not about to coronate this group just yet.
"This team is just scratching the surface," Porter said. "We leave the weekend feeling extremely confident because we went into the ACC country and got two results against two of the best teams. [However], there were some moments in both games where we were exposed."
Akron's team is built around a talented, yet still young, defense. All four backs and the goalkeeper return from last year's starting lineup, and only one of those players -- defender Chris Korb -- is a senior in 2010. Keeper David Meves, a sophomore, recorded shutouts in both matches over the weekend, stretching Akron's shutout streak to seven matches, dating back to last season. The remaining starting defenders are sophomores Zarek Valentin and Chad Barson and junior Kofi Sarkodie.
"The entire team is committed to defending, and if we're doing it right -- like we have been -- we're not defending very much because we're on the ball a lot," Porter said. "We're going to defend, but we're going to attack. This year, we're showing we can be very productive on the attacking side.
"We might not be getting as many chances as last year, but we're finishing more this year," said Porter, referring to the fact that Akron converted three of five shots on goal against UNC and two of three against Wake.
The lone question surrounding Akron's 2010 team was how it would replace Hermann Trophy winner and leading scorer Teal Bunbury. For the time being, the answer has been junior forward Darlington Nagbe, who scored goals in the wins over Wake and UNC.
"He's producing and he's starting to realize, not only can he be a rhythm player but also a lethal goal scorer -- and he has to be because Teal is gone," Porter said. "Now it's his time. He's the guy. He's been in the shadows playing second fiddle to Steve Zakuani [in 2008] and Teal Bunbury [in 2009] and now it's got to be him."
Around the nation
Power outage?: The Atlantic Coast Conference is regarded as the strongest and deepest league in college soccer. However, the holiday weekend proved to be a setback to the conference's image. ACC teams, which held four of the top six spots and six of the top 12 in the preseason NSCAA Top 25, went 1-5-1 against other ranked teams in the opening week. Perhaps no result was more surprising than No. 24 Michigan State's 4-3 overtime victory over No. 6 Maryland (more on that later). Louisville, ranked No. 20, defeated North Carolina State and tied favored Duke. Six of the league's nine teams took losses, and Boston College and No. 2 Virginia were the only teams to get through the week unscathed. Overall, the ACC is a surprisingly mediocre 7-8-2.
Game of the week: The most drama-filled match of the week proved to be Michigan State's 4-3 overtime victory over Maryland in a match that featured three goals in 90 seconds, setting the state for the overtime session. Maryland erased Michigan State's 2-0 lead with goals by Matt Kassel, Kaoru Forbes and Doug Rodkey, with the Forbes score coming at 88:38 and Rodkey scoring 21 seconds later. On the ensuing kickoff, a mere 9 seconds later, Brent Rosendall tied the match at 3-3 for Michigan State. Domenic Barone converted the match winner in the 96th minute for the Spartans' biggest win in years. However, two days later, the luster of Michigan State's victory was lost in a 4-0 thrashing by Georgetown.
Balance of power: UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Stanford were the projected top three teams from the West, but they combined for a 1-4-1 start over the weekend, with UCLA losing to Indiana 5-1, UC Santa Barbara getting surprised by Cal State Bakersfield, and Stanford dropping contests to Vermont and Harvard. So that begs to question, who's No. 1 in the West? Perhaps that early-season honor will fall to Portland, which used a pair of goals from Ryan Luke to defeat Evansville 2-1 for the Portland Nike Invitational title. Luke was named offensive MVP in an event that saw the University of Washington and Evansville each go 1-1 behind Portland's 1-0-1 mark. Northern Illinois finished 0-1-1.
Conference on the rise: Monmouth's success in 2009 was well-documented -- an 18-2-2 record and a lofty national ranking. Now, it appears the entire Northeast Conference, in which Monmouth is the defending champion, has improved its level of play, as well. NEC schools occupy four of the top spots in the most recent NSCAA Northeast Region rankings: No. 1 Monmouth, No. 4 St. Francis (Pa.), No. 5 Long Island University and No. 6 Sacred Heart University.
Recruiting central: Shortly before the 2010 college season, George Mason was stung when top recruit Conor Shanosky inked a deal with DC United, opting to turn pro instead of playing in college. Now, it appears the University of South Florida is the next team hit. South Florida had a verbal commitment from Jonathan Kempin, a top Class of 2011 goalkeeper prospect who planned to be at the school in time for the spring session. Instead, the 17-year-old, who is finishing his high school studies this fall, signed with the Kansas City Wizards last week.
For the latest verbal commitment information, visit ESPNRISE.com.
Sheldon Shealer is the soccer editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site.