Six student-athletes have confirmed their intention to join the Valparaiso men’s soccer program this fall, head coach Mike Avery announced today, bringing the total number of the 2013 incoming recruiting class to 12. This second group of future Crusaders will join previously announced recruits Forrest Chong, Mo Harb, Nate Kitchell, Kevin Klett, John Patton and Jacob Peterson in bolstering the Valparaiso roster as they prepare to face one of the strongest schedules in program history in the 2013 soccer season.
“This latest crop of recruits is a great complement to our returning roster and the initial group that we announced in February,” said Avery. “We’ve been able to add experience, depth, and quality with these players, and most importantly we have added young men that fit our program, and our university, very well. These are good players, but they are first and foremost good people that will be positive additions to our soccer family.”
“We’ve lost a lot of talent over the past few years, particularly in our defending group, including a goalkeeper (Kyle Zobeck) and a defender (Stefan Antonijevic) that were selected in the MLS draft and are both playing professional soccer today,” Avery said. “We’ve been a very difficult team to break down, as indicated by our goals against average in the last three seasons, so there is some urgency on the part of our staff to make sure we have given ourselves the best chance to replace what is no longer here. We’ve done that with this recruiting class. We’ve also added some attacking pieces that will challenge our returning group. We are finalizing a few more players that we will announce in the next few weeks, and we think we have a group together that will be very competitive in the Horizon League next fall. Competition all over the field should be intense in preseason, and that excites us because we know that the competition will allow the best individuals to emerge and then, in turn, it will push the group collectively to reach new heights.”
Adrian Graham (Kingston, Jamaica – St. George’s College/University of West Indies Mona/Real Mona FC) - The Crusaders will look to Graham, a 6’1” center back, to help lead a back four that will be rebuilt in 2013. As a high school player at St George’s College, Graham led his school team to great success while winning the Manning Cup, the Walker Cup, and the Oliver Shield in 2011. For his efforts on the field, Graham was named team MVP and was also honored with the Manning Cup MVP, given to the league’s top player. Off the field, Graham was honored with St George’s College Leadership in Sports Award and the Principles Award for his accomplishments in sport and academics. In 2012, Graham was able to gain international experience as he was called into the Jamaican U20 team. At Valparaiso, Graham intends to study business management.
Coach Avery on Graham: “Adrian is a great fit for us in a lot of ways. He fills a need as a central defender, he has tremendous leadership potential, and his personality blends very well with our existing group. He is a tough and rugged stand up center back, and we value his grit and defensive presence. He also has a quality range of pass and is capable of initiating the attack and helping us build the game from back to front. We had Adrian in for a visit and were very impressed with him. He is very mature and he understands the value of receiving an education while playing at a high level. He carries himself with a quiet confidence and I believe he will have a great career at Valparaiso.”
Graham on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “Valparaiso is a great institution, a friendly and inviting environment to live, learn and play soccer. I believe Valparaiso has a great soccer team (really good players with great personalities) with exceptional records over the past few years, and it reminds me of my high school team a lot which I miss dearly. I also think Valparaiso will help me to grow tremendously as a good individual and player.”
Omar Lawrence (Kingston, Jamaica – Excelsior H.S./Harbor View Football Club) - Lawrence, a 5’11” defender, brings a wealth of experience to Valparaiso. As a high school player for Excelsior, Lawrence led his side to the U16 national championship and the U19 league title while earning Defensive MVP honors. With Harbor View FC, Lawrence captained his side to the Jamaican U20 club championship. His performances for school and club caught the attention of the Jamaican soccer federation, and Lawrence has represented Jamaica in various competitions at the U15, U17 and U20 national team level. Off the field, Lawrence was a very good student at Excelsior H.S. and was presented with the Senior Year Student Award by Excelsior’s Business faculty. Lawrence intends to study international business at Valparaiso.
Coach Avery on Lawrence: “Omar is a great addition to our squad. He is a talented and athletic defender that has a great ability to not only win the ball, but then to play and keep possession as we build into an attack. He is versatile enough to play anywhere along the back line or deep in the midfield, and he is very two footed. Omar is also very good in the air and will be a threat in the offensive end on set pieces. As we rebuild our back four, Omar has the potential to step right in and play a big role in the team.”
Lawrence on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “Valpo is a great school for student-athletes seeking to do well in their academics and have a chance of becoming a professional player. The academics are well documented, and the school has an improving record of players advancing to the professional league, so that shows the quality of the coaching staff.”
Jack McIver (Cincinnati, Ohio – Jacksonville University/Cincinnati Hills Christian H.S./Cincinnati United Premier) - McIver, a 6’3 defender, joins the Crusaders as a transfer from Jacksonville University. Despite fighting through some injury issues early on, McIver started 15 games over the past two seasons for the Dolphins, earning All-Atlantic Sun Academic honors in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. McIver also excels in the classroom and has been named to the Dean’s List or the President’s List in each of his four semesters at Jacksonville. McIver played club soccer in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio for a Cincinnati United Premier team that won such prestigious youth tournaments as the Disney Showcase, CASL Showcase, and the Ohio South State Cup. McIver intends to study International Business and Spanish at Valparaiso.
Coach Avery on McIver: “Including Jack in this class was an easy decision for us because he brings a lot of qualities to the table which we had identified as needs in this recruiting class. Jack is a sure and steady defender that has some experience in Division I college soccer. He is a mature young man, with an easy-going nature off the field and a quick smile, but he knows what it takes to compete at this level. Even though he is new to the team, having an upperclassman that has been there and done that in terms of college soccer is a big bonus, and we’ll rely on that experience next fall.”
McIver on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “I chose Valpo because it is close to home and has a great academic and athletic reputation across the country. I am excited about completing my college career here because I feel I agree with what Coach Avery, the coaching staff, and the players stand for and how they have high expectations for the upcoming season.”
Ryan McKenzie (Libertyville, Ill. – Libertyville H.S./Chicago Fire Juniors) - McKenzie, a 6’2” defender out of the Chicagoland region, joins the Crusaders out of the Chicago Fire Juniors club under Coach Sole Antonijevic, the father of Valpo alum and 2011 Horizon League Defender of the Year Stefan Antonijevic. McKenzie was an All-Conference selection at Libertyville H.S., where he helped lead the Wildcats to the sectional finals in 2012. An honor roll student at Libertyville, McKenzie plans on studying Sports Management at Valparaiso.
Coach Avery on McKenzie: “We initially received a strong recommendation for Ryan from his club coaches, and then we had the chance to evaluate him at our VIP camp which confirmed for us the good things we had heard. Ryan is a big and strong athlete who has good feet and is technically very sound. He can play anywhere in the back or deep in the midfield, and will give us depth initially, but we think he has tremendous upside and are excited to watch him and see how he develops.
McKenzie on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “The reason I chose Valpo is because the school fits me in every way. I wanted a smaller school that isn't in a city but close enough to one that I can visit. Valpo has the exact major I want as well. The Sports Management major has law classes involved in the curriculum, which benefits me because I want to go to law school after my first four years. The reason I love the soccer program is the TS11 idea that people live their lives based on similar ideas. Also I am really excited about the brotherhood within the program and that this is a very committed group of players and coaches. Overall, the choice to go to Valpo was a relatively easy one to make.”
Suleiman Thomas (Chicago, Ill. – Lake Forest Academy/Chicago Magic) - Thomas, a 5’8” attacking player, brings creativity and imagination to the Crusader team. As a senior captain for Lake Forest Academy, Thomas helped lead his team to a sectional final while earning All-Sectional honors. Thomas is currently playing his club soccer with the Chicago Magic, having previously played with the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Wind. Thomas is an honor roll student at Lake Forest Academy, and has not yet settled on a major at Valparaiso.
Coach Avery on Thomas: “Suleiman is a player about whom we received strong recommendations from his club coaches, and then when we saw him at our VIP camp we saw for ourselves that he has some special qualities that will fit in very well with our program. He is technical, creative, and versatile in his attacking. He can play wide in the midfield or up underneath a striker, and regardless of where he plays he does a great job at finding the game and helping his team create opportunities to score. We also really enjoyed getting to know Suleiman and his family away from the field – they are a great addition to our program.”
Thomas on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “I chose Valparaiso University because of its strong academics, and because of the soccer program's potential. It is a beautiful campus, and on my visits it felt like I would fit into the student body very well. It also doesn't hurt that it's only an hour away from home.”
Wasajja Walugembe (Las Vegas, Nev. – Durango H.S./Downtown Las Vegas SC) - Walugembe, a 5’11” forward, brings a unique background and an exciting set of attacking qualities to the Crusaders. Born in Silver Springs, Md., Walugembe spent a portion of his childhood in his parent’s native country of Uganda before coming back to the U.S. as a sophomore in high school. In his three years at Durango H.S., Walugembe was a First Team All-Conference selection for the Trailblazers while leading the division in goals scored. For Coach Rich Ryerson’s Downtown LVSC club team, Walugembe helped lead his side to the state semi-final. A strong student in the classroom, Walugembe plans to study Sociology with an interest in Criminal Justice at Valparaiso.
Coach Avery on Walugembe: “Wass is an athletic striker that has a knack for goal scoring. He’s long and fast, and poses a real threat to the opposition in the space behind the backs, but he is also technically very sound and is both a good crosser and passer of the ball. The upside to Wass is huge, and we have been very impressed with his attitude and his desire to improve. He’s a very motivated young man and there is little doubt that his best days on a soccer field are out in front of him.”
Walumgembe on his decision to attend Valparaiso: “I chose Valpo because of the environment and the small community. It is a perfect learning environment for me. What excites me about the program is that I get to be a part of a great soccer program as well as getting to work with amazing coaches and players.”