August 20, 2011

Deeper, More Explosive HU Men's Soccer Team Striving For Consistency

 The weather was perfect -- sunny skies with a slight breeze. HU men's coach Jon Lowery and his charges took the field for their first practice with energy, excitement and ambition. The goal for the new season is simple: “We need to be more consistent with our efforts on the field.  The margin for error on our schedule is very small and we paid the price for inconsistent performances last year,” Lowery said. “Bottom line, we will be better defensively and much more balanced, athletic and ultimately more dangerous in the attack.” 

If that occurs, HU figures to better last year’s final mark of 6-12-0 (2-8 in the MIAC). “I know the final record didn’t show it but we really did improve last year. We were a little unfortunate at times,” Lowery said. “But it doesn’t take much to get into trouble. We had several players who gained a lot of valuable playing time last year. Now they need to show what they have learned. We also have some exciting new players to help us attack better.” 

There are just four seniors on the 2011 Pipers. But one of them – goalkeeper Zach Nelson (Eagan, Minn.) is a three-year regular who started 13 games last season. “Zach had a great sophomore season,” Lowery recalled. “The key for him is to find his consistency. He’s big (6-3) and he has played a lot of games. We want him to find the form he is capable of showing.” 

Nelson has competition for the goalkeeper job. Fellow Eaganite Eric Feil saw action in seven games last year and may be ready to challenge for the top job. A third possibility is Spencer Von Behren (Bloomington, Minn.), a junior transfer from Dakota County Tech. “Eric and Spencer both have experience at the college level,” Lowery said. “This is the kind of depth we have been trying to build,” the third-year coach added.  

The defensive figures to be a mix of experience and youth. Sophomore Michael Murphy (Mahtomedi, Minn.) and junior Sam Slagle (Appleton, Wis.) started every game on the back line in 2010. Having those two and sophomore Brian Stout (Lake Villa, Ill.) back is one reason Lowery feels good about his defense. “Murphy and Stout are not your average sophomores,” Lowery said. “They got much better as the season went on.” Slagle and Stout are very capable playing in front of the back line and may move up to midfield. If they do – or even if they don’t – first-year player Kevin Gjersvig comes to HU from the highly regarded MTA club program and may well see considerable action right away.  

 Gjersvig, in fact, is an example of the upgrade in the talent level in the program. “We wanted to be more efficient technically this year and I think we have achieved that goal,” Lowery said.  

Last year’s leading scorer, Javier Rios, has graduated. But Ibou Wone (Sr-Dakar, Senegal) who scored four times last year, is back. A pair of explosive newcomers – Midhat Mujic (Jr-Bosnia), a transfer from Rochester (Minn.) CC and first-year player Tyler Tallacksen (Coon Rapids, Minn.) are waiting to pick up the slack. Mujic was a top scorer when he played in high school at Rochester Mayo. “He’s very explosive,” Lowery said. His pace will be a tremendous addition to our attack.” Tallaksen was named to the MSHSL Honorable Mention All-State team last fall. A terrific athlete, he also played basketball and ran track in high school. “He’s very versatile,” Lowery said. 

Andrew Rorick (Mankato, Minn.) is another addition who may bolster the Pipers’ offense. He is one of three first-year players off the highly regarded MTA club team. “Andrew is a terrific player with exceptional quickness, acceleration and overall pace,” Lowery said. Marko Doder (Serbia), a sophomore who played in five games last year, is also a contender for an attacking position. 

“We will, be much better offensively this year,” Lowery contends. “Last year, we were often one dimensional. The combination of the players coming in with the ones returning will make our attack much more dynamic.” 

In a game where offense is frequently at a premium, little mistakes can go a long way. Lowery says the goal for 2011 is to avoid some of the mishaps that befell the 2010 contingent. “Last year, we fell behind early too often,” he said. “Our goal is to change that. We intend to be relevant for the whole season.” 

The Pipers get tested immediately. The season opens Sept. 2 against Hiram - team returning 18 letterwinners from 2010. The next night, they face an Ohio Wesleyan team that went to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals in 2010.