Tough start will not influence soccer team’s drive for wins

The men’s soccer team opened its season with fresh legs, fierce determination and an incredibly young roster, as over half the team is new to the program. While the team started off against tough teams like Fort Lewis College, Colorado School of Mines and Midwestern State, these early losses will not serve as a deterrent for the Hilltoppers to reach their final goal: a Heartland Conference Championship.

“The season-opening games were fantastic for all the players to play against the best teams in the country,” Head Coach Brian Young said. “We learned a lot during those early games as a team, and we will get a chance to apply [these lessons] in our remaining 14 matches.” 

Juniors James Martin and Anderson McDaniel began the season with goals against Colorado School of Mines, but the Hilltoppers were outscored when a questionable referee call in the last four minutes of the game set the match at a 3-2 loss. The Hilltoppers then fell 2-0 to Fort Lewis in another tough battle. Inclement weather created a difficult playing surface during the Hilltoppers’ home game against Midwestern State, which ended in a 0-0 tie, and the Hilltoppers lost 2-1 to UT-Permian Basin Sept. 20.

The high point of the season thus far was a win against Dallas Baptist where the Hilltoppers crushed the Patriots 3-0. Sophomores Daniel Riley and Andrew Fox landed their first goals of the season during this game. Martin, who was named the Heartland Conference Player of the Week for Aug. 27-Sept. 2, scored his second goal of the season.

“It has been a very tough schedule so far to start the season, but there has been a lot of positive signs, especially as it is a young team,” Assistant Coach Matthew O’Sullivan said.

The team is also young, hosting 12 freshmen on its 26-man roster. This age gap had potential to cause tensions in team; according to O’Sullivan, there is no divide between freshman and upperclassmen. The team participates in group study hall and community service projects in addition to daily practices. The team also took a preseason trip to Port Aransas, Texas where the Hilltoppers did fitness and bonding activities on the beach.

This time together outside of soccer has brought the team closer together, which has a positive effect on players’ mentalities both on and off the pitch. Junior goalie John Kaschak said that being a part of the team is more than just being a skilled player. According to Kaschak, it means being part of a family.

“They all have a great work ethic and desire to learn. This is a great combination to achieve the goals the players and staff have set out during preseason,” Young said.

Having a new team means setting new goals. According to Kaschak, the team’s highest goal is to make the NCAA tournament and to bring home a Heartland Conference Championship.

“The future is very bright for this team. We play an attractive style of play, and we play the ball as much as possible. Look for this team to get better as the season goes along,” O’Sullivan said.

The Hilltoppers will begin the first of four games on the road against Newman University in Wichita, Kan. on Sept. 27 for the next Heartland Conference game. Men’s soccer will return to the Hilltop Oct. 11 with a game against Newman at 3:30 p.m.