Super Stopper

By Seth Davis
Binghamton Sports Information Office

Junior goalkeeper Jason Stenta is in the midst of a prolific college soccer career. It wasn't until a phone call four years ago, however, that he realized that he could have the chance to flourish at the Division I level.

Deep Roots

Jason Stenta grew up playing soccer his whole life. He spent his youth with his twin brother playing club soccer and playing for their high school team. During that time, Jason developed a passion for the game that drove him to compete at a high level.

"It started out as just friends playing on a team together," Stenta said. "As we progressed we started to win tournaments. Eventually we got into club soccer where I met Coach (Paul) Marco."

Marco is the current head coach at Binghamton University and runs the B.C. United Fusion Club Soccer Program, which Stenta joined. He spent some time around Stenta and saw the potential that he had.

"Jason played with our club team so I had a chance to work with him personally," Marco said. "He is very athletic, very talented and was a person who was able to succeed at his level based on talent alone."

In high school, Stenta was a standout goalkeeper at nearby Chenango Valley from 2001-04. He was selected as an NSCAA High School All-New York Region player his senior year. He was also named first-team all state as a senior and second team all state as a junior.

Current Binghamton back Kyle Kucharski went to Maine-Endwell High School and played against Stenta each season. He knew that when it came time to play Chenango Valley every year, Stenta would be on his game.

"In high school you have a couple of standout players on each team and he was one from Chenango Valley," Kucharski said. "He always kept his team in the game and it was always a challenge playing against his team when he was the keeper."

A Career-Changing Phone Call

Despite all of his success, he wasn't sure if he would make it to the Division I level in college soccer. He didn't doubt his abilities but wasn't sure if things would fall into place to make that dream become a reality.

That would change in the summer of 2004. Marco made a phone call to Stenta on the opening day of the recruiting period. He believed that Stenta could perform well at the Division I level. Stenta was stunned at the opportunity he would receive.

"I never really expected it, until all of a sudden you get phone calls from coaches telling you that they are interested in you," he said. "I never knew the capabilities I had. Division I was a dream, and as I got older I could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

"I felt that he had an inner strength that would allow him to have more growth in his game and play at a higher level than he was already playing at," Marco said. "He had a good work ethic and a lot of potential."

Stenta committed to Binghamton and redshirted during the 2005 season, sitting behind starter Ryan Bertoni and backup Phil Grommet. It gave him a chance to learn what playing in Division I soccer was about and took his skills to a whole new level.

"Coming in I didn't know what to expect because the demands aren't that high in high school," Stenta said. "I was able to get closer to the team and learn how to communicate with them by watching the goalies. It allowed me to grow as a player and get stronger while watching the players and the coaching staff around me."

Even though Stenta was sitting that year out, he was able grow tremendously as a player.

"I thought Jason's growth during his redshirt season (2005) was very important," Marco said. "It set him up for (2006) because he was able to grow and not have a lot of pressure on him to perform. It gave him the chance to change and improve his game without the pressure of performing."

"Now is Your Chance"

In 2006, after the graduation of Grommet, Stenta was set to be the backup goalkeeper to Bertoni. That all changed on Sept. 2, the night before the Bearcats' game against Long Island University at the Dartmouth Invitational. Coach Marco hoped to reverse the team's 0-3-1 record that opened the season andannounced that Stenta would be the starting goalkeeper the following day.

"When he told me that I was the starting keeper; my jaw dropped," Stenta said. "That night I was in my hotel room with (teammate) Brendan McGovern. We had a long talk and he told me, 'you have been waiting for this your whole time here, now is your chance.' It really didn't hit me until I woke up the next morning and I was nervous about starting the game."

Binghamton jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Dartmouth, but fell behind 3-2 with less than 15 minutes remaining in regulation. Cody Germain, however, scored a pair of goals in the final 12 minutes, giving Stenta and the Bearcats their first win of the season.

"Cody saved me by scoring those two goals," Stenta said. "I think if we had lost that game I would have been benched, but we won the game and Marco stuck with me."

Although the Bearcats were 2-5-3 as of Sept. 23, they were able to turn things around during America East play. The team posted a 6-1-1 record in conference action, including five shutouts, clinching the regular season title. Stenta was named to the All Rookie team and second team all conference. He was also named ECAC Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Oct. 23, and America East Player of the Week twice. In the classroom, Stenta would be become a consistent name on the America East Academic Honor Roll.

"Going through the games I didn't really notice much other than just playing keeper," Stenta said. "Once we got to conference play, there was a lot more emphasis on the games. We ended up with a really good record and were in the playoffs."

Not only did Stenta notice a big difference once he began maturing as the starting keeper, but so did his teammates and coaches.

"When he did win the starting job, we not only saw continued growth but also some maturity and ability to communicate and solve problem quicker," Marco said. "He grew more comfortable as the season went on."

"He is Known for Making Big Saves"

Stenta's defining moment in 2006 was during the AE semifinals against Boston at the old West Gym Field. The Bearcats and Terriers were tied 1-1 after regulation and two sudden death overtimes. The game would be decided by penatly kicks.

Both the Bearcats and Terriers made their first five penatly kick attempts. In the top of the sixth frame, Kucharski put the Bearcats ahead 6-5. Stenta then squared off against Boston's Paul Mignoga with a chance to win the game. Mignoga fired his shot toward the upper left corner of the net but Stenta timed the shot perfectly and made a leaping deflection. The Bearcats had advanced to the championship game for the fourth consecutive season.

"At that point in the shootout we were looking for anybody to step up and make the big play," Kucharski said. "Having Jason come up big with that save was great for us. He is known for making big saves but that is one that really stands out."

"Everyone rushed the field," Stenta remembers about the celebration on the field after the game. "You can't breathe because everyone is around you. I've never felt a feeling like that in my life. You can't really describe it until you are in the setting."

Three days later, Binghamton beat Vermont 1-0 to win its second AE title in four years. Stenta was named to all-tournament team. Although BU lost 2-1 to Harvard in NCAA first round, it could not taint Stenta's rise to the starting job.

In the fall of 2007, Stenta was ready to assume the role of starting keeper for his first full season. Even though he was undoubtedly the starter, he worked harder than ever to ensure his place in goal.

"I couldn't get complacent about being the starting goalie because (Ryan) Bertoni was the starting keeper and I won the job from him so I knew that I had to work hard and do my summer workouts."

Lead by Stenta in goal, the Bearcats paced a defense that ranked ninth in NCAA rankings in 2007, including 12 shutout wins. Individually, Stenta ranked 12th in goals against average, posting a 0.588 GAA and ranked 13th with a 0.848 save percentage. With such strong play, Binghamton won their second straight regular season crown but lost 1-0 to Vermont in the championship game.

"When you lose like that and it ends your season, it's tough," Stenta said. "I remember all of the seniors going through that moment when we lost to Stony Brook (in the 2005 championship game) so I felt bad for our seniors last season."

Looking to 2008 and Beyond

Stenta has spent the past off-season working out and training as usual, but recently added to his resume. He helped Central take home the gold medal during the Empire State Games, earning wins in both of the games he appeared in.

Coming into this season, Stenta has set high goals for himself. Before his tenure at Binghamton is over, he hopes to set the single season school records for goals against average and shutouts. With these goals in mind, he is poised to begin what he hopes to be his best year so far.

Marco also has plans for Stenta. Every year he has seen him progress greatly but this year, he hopes Stenta can take his play to an even higher level.

"Jason has grown tremendously each season," Marco said. "He is a good shot stopper, leader and organizer of the defense. This year as an upperclassman, we are looking for him to improve in all those areas. We expect him to have another fine year."

With all of the goals Stenta has for this year, he also carries a dedication that he has made to a family that he is very near to. Joseph McAfee, a close friend that he grew up playing soccer with, passed away on April 12, 2008. They played club soccer together for the B.C. Fusion and became close friends. Stenta is dedicating the 2008 season to him and his family.

"He was a very close friend that I grew up with," Stenta said. "We played soccer together growing up. I want this year to be for him and his family."

Even though Stenta is already living his dream of playing Division I soccer, he still has one left; to play professionally when his career at Binghamton is over.

"Playing professional soccer would be a dream come true," he said. "But its going to take a lot of hard work."

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