A new league. A new coaching staff. Twenty-two newcomers on the 32-man roster. Even new-look uniforms. The 2007 Valparaiso men’s soccer squad is hoping that all of these new parts come together to start a new tradition: one of winning in the Horizon League.
Mike Avery was named just the third head coach in Crusader history on January 18, 2007. He joins the ranks of Division I head coaches after spending the past seven years as an assistant at Louisville and Notre Dame.
Prior to his time in the Big East, Avery served as head coach at Cal State San Bernardino and Bethel [Ind.] for three seasons apiece, amassing a 61-57-4 record in his six seasons. His experience rebuilding programs is immense, as every team he has joined as a coach has improved from its previous season.
Rick King joined the Crusader staff as an assistant coach on August 6, 2007 after spending the 2006 campaign as a volunteer assistant at Notre Dame, where he was responsible for training and coaching the goalkeepers
Valpo has just two seniors on its youth-laden squad, but both enter the 2007 season as fifth-year seniors.
Sean McGinnis remained sharp in his role as backup goalkeeper in 2006, appearing in three matches and posting a miniscule 0.80 goals against average. McGinnis earned his second career shutout last year against IPFW, and has lowered his career goals against average in 11 appearances to 1.54.
Midfielder Tyler Pagano started all 17 matches last year for the Crusaders. He has been a vital part of a Crusader defense that registered 11 shutouts over the past two seasons.
“With such a young squad, we are very fortunate to have both our 5th year guys back,” said Avery. “More important than on the field, both will be relied on heavily to lead the team off the field, and to set a great example for the young guys about how college soccer players handle themselves. Tyler and Sean are perfect for that role. Tyler also had a great summer in the PDL and I am excited to watch him continue his rise this fall.”
Five juniors return for their third season of Crusader soccer in 2007.
Brett Bermes and Andrew Stewart will anchor the Valpo backline. Stewart has been named Valpo’s Outstanding Defensive Player in each of his first two seasons on the squad, appearing in all 35 matches, while Bermes has made 29 appearances for the Crusaders.
In the midfield, Clifton Brown, Yuuki Guzmán and Paul Leitelt return. Brown was named the Crusaders’ Most Valuable Player last season, dishing out two assists and starting 16 matches, while Guzman appearaed in 13 matches off of the bench. Leitelt stood out in the first week of 2006, notching four goals and two assists to earn National Player of the Week honors, and is Valpo’s active leading goal scorer with eight tallies.
“The junior class is a very talented one,” said Avery. “All of these guys have gained valuable experience on the field in their first two seasons, and are players we will look to for leadership and quality in this season. Paul Leitelt is poised to have a huge season as he moves higher up the field in the attack, and Andrew Stewart will no doubt be one of the best defenders in the league. Clifton Brown has all the potential to be a big-time player, and if we can do our job as coaches and find the right role for him, his production will be impressive. “
Three sophomores return for Valpo in 2007, all of whom had big contributions on the field during their debut campaign.
Ryan Schwarz stood out between the pipes for Valpo last season, setting a Crusader freshman record with four shutouts and finishing 21st in the nation with 5.13 saves/match. Schwarz started 15 matches in his rookie year, and especially stood out at Eastgate Field, where he went 5-3 with a 1.47 goals against average.
Steve Shively started 13 matches as a freshman, tying for second on the squad with four goals scored. All four of his goals were of the match-winning variety. Shively moves to defense this year, joining Joel Wagner, who started 16 matches last year and earned Mid-Con All-Newcomer honors for his play in the midfield.
“Though the sophomore class is not big in numbers, it is a very important trio to our team,” said Avery. “All three will be looked to help us bolt up our defense. Schwarz could wind up being the best college goalkeeper I have worked with - which includes some All-Americans and MLS draft picks. Shively and Wagner have both been converted into outside backs and their ability with the ball has allowed us to become a more possession-oriented team.”
Coach Avery has brought in four transfers and 18 freshmen to round out his 32-man roster for this coming season.
Joining the Crusader program from other teams are J.J. Del Castillo, a sophomore midfielder who last played at Gardner-Webb, Mario Diaz, a junior midfielder out of South Suburban [Ill.], Oscar Lomeli, a junior foward from Bethel [Ind.], and Eniola Solomon, a junior forward who was a teammate of Diaz’s at South Suburban.
Of the 18 freshman on the 2007 squad, two are forwards, 10 are midfielders, four are defenders, and two are goalkeepers.
“The rookie group has done extremely well so far in preseason, and they have validated our decisions to bring them into the team,” said Avery. “The program has a very bright future based on the talent assembled in the freshmen class, and the transfer players will all make immediate contributions. These transfers bring much-needed flair, experience and maturity to the team.”
Valpo will face a very challenging slate in 2007, both in the non-conference portion of the schedule and in its first season of Horizon League competition.
The Crusaders open the season at the Wolfpack Classic in North Carolina, facing off against two ACC foes in North Carolina State and Duke. The Blue Devils will be the first of four 2006 NCAA College Cup participants that Valpo will take on in 2007, as Duke advanced to the quarterfinal round last year.
The Crusaders return home for their home opener on September 7, taking on IPFW. Other non-conference action for Valpo includes a home game against Michigan State and road contests at Evansville, DePaul, Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Western Michigan.
The first Horizon League contest in any sport for Valpo will be when the men’s soccer team takes on 2006 Horizon League Tournament Champion Loyola September 16 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. The Horizon League slate continues with home games against Butler and Green Bay and road matches against Milwaukee, Detroit, Wright State and UIC. The regular season will conclude November 2 on Senior Day for the Crusaders as they host Cleveland State.
The Horizon League Championships begin on November 9. All nine league schools make the Championship, with the top two seeds receiving byes into the semifinals while the third seed advances automatically to the second round. The championship match will be held November 19, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA College Cup.