The Valparaiso men’s soccer team finds itself in the midst of a program turnaround, as head coach Mike Avery is in his third year at the helm of the Crusader program. In his first two seasons, Valpo has posted two of the best defensive seasons in school history, and with a dynamic duo returning in goal combined with promising talent elsewhere on the pitch, the Crusaders will look to move up the Horizon League standings in 2009.
"We are certainly a program that has made steady progress over the past few seasons, and we feel like we have added in a few key pieces this fall that could push us over the top,” said Avery. “Our core of returning players is very strong, and this group has created a wonderful culture within the team, so now as we blend in our new players, the team is ready to accept them.”
“Our goals for the season have remained consistent throughout my time here - we quite simply want to focus on the process of getting better on a daily basis, and see how close we can get to reaching our potential as a group. When we do this and keep our focus on the process, then the product - the wins - will start to take care of themselves.”
Avery is back for his third season as head coach after guiding the Crusaders through a transition stage, both in the program and in league affiliation, in his first two years. He has coached five All-League honorees and sent graduated senior Oscar Lomeli to the professional soccer ranks in his native Mexico. Last year’s squad gave up just 29 goals in 19 matches, the fourth-fewest goals allowed in a single year in program history.
Jeff Oleck returns to Valpo as an assistant coach this year after spending the last three years at Wabash College. Oleck stood out between the pipes for Valpo from 2002-2005 and still holds the school record for career shutouts. Andy McCaslin is in his second year as an assistant coach, while Cailean Bailey and Phil Ruskin join the coaching staff this season.
Valparaiso brings back six seniors for the 2009 campaign.
Three of the six returning seniors play in the midfield for the Crusaders: J.J. Del Castillo, Danny Jeftich and Rodolfo Lucas. Del Castillo appeared in 18 matches for the Crusaders last year, making eight starts, and picked up an assist, while fifth-year senior Jeftich saw action in nine matches, including two starts. Lucas, in his first year wearing the Valpo uniform, started 12 of his 15 matches, scoring a goal and registering two assists.
Lucas’ fellow Brazilian, Israel Bisoni, can play either up front or in the midfield for the Crusaders after making five starts among his 18 appearances in his first year with Valpo in 2008, scoring one goal. Steve Shively also returns up front for the Crusaders for the final season of an illustrious career. Despite coming off the bench the majority of the time last season, Shively still finished third on the team with four goals, including a pair of match-winners, giving him seven career match-winners in his first three seasons.
Goalkeeper Ryan Schwarz is the final senior on this year’s squad, but has two seasons of eligibility remaining after medically redshirting in 2008 due to an injury suffered in preseason training. Schwarz, the 2007 Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year, is coming off a summer in which he played for the Chicago Fire PDL squad.
“The senior class is the group we rely on to set the tone for the rest of the squad,” said Avery. “With so many new players, especially with the addition of the reserve team, our six seniors carry a lot of responsibility this season to set a great example. The great news for us, however, is that we have exactly the perfect guys to play these roles in our six seniors. Schwarz and Shively are the true veterans as they have been here for four years. With Ryan anchoring our defense and Steve spearheading the attack, I think these two are critical to the team's success on the field this year.”
“del Castillo, Lucas, Bisoni and Jeftich round out the senior group, and each of them bring something different to the table,” continued Avery. “As transfers they add some college soccer experience, and our three international kids in this group (del Castillo, Lucas, and Bisoni) bring a little different perspective to the table both in terms of soccer and in life experiences. Jeftich is a Valparaiso product with a long history to the program, as his father was the head coach at Valpo for eight seasons. Having Danny in the mix these past two seasons has not only given us a good player, but has allowed us to connect to the soccer community locally. We need the best players from NW Indiana to give us a look, and Danny has been a big help to open some doors.”
Eight juniors return for the 2009 season for the Crusaders, including a duo up front of Zack Stivers and Kelvin Zelee. Stivers made 14 appearances, including five starts, in 2008 for Valpo, picking up two goals and an assist for five points. Zelee, a sophomore eligibility-wise, debuted for the Crusaders last year, playing in 18 contests and making a trio of starting appearances.
Brendan Roth, also a sophomore eligibility-wise, could split time either in the midfield or up front for Valpo this season after a sophomore campaign which saw him play in ten games, including two starts. Four other midfielders also return for the Crusaders: Jake Freisinger, Clayton Lyons, Adrian Ortiz and Ken Perkins. Freisinger played in every match last year, starting six times, and tallied a goal and an assist, while sophomore-eligible Lyons played in 12 matches with three starts.
Ortiz continued to serve as a playmaker in the middle last year for the Crusaders, picking up a pair of assists while playing in every game, starting on 13 occasions. Perkins started all but one match last year for the Crusaders, recording an assist while serving as a solid presence on the field. The final junior is sophomore-eligible Adrian Navar, who redshirted last season after transferring from Augustana to Valpo.
“The junior class is also a very important group to our team dynamics and to our team's success on the field,” said Avery. “Many in this group arrived right around the same time I did, so they have been with me every step of the way. Players like Perkins, Ortiz, Freisinger, Lyons, Roth, Stivers and Kevin Deitsch have helped shape the culture of the team with their incredible commitment and hard work. They have all played a lot of minutes, and they now become upperclassmen already possessing a great deal of game experience. We'll lean on this group quite a bit this year. JP Lytle is another important member of the junior class, and though he will likely miss this season as he recovers from knee surgery last spring, he is an important leader in the team and we look forward to having him for two more seasons. Navar and Zelee have also been additions as transfers to our junior class that have strengthened that group and added a great deal to our team.”
Two players in their second year at Valparaiso return in 2009 for the varsity, highlighted by goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck, who set Valpo’s single-season goals against average last year as a freshman. Forced into starting duty right away, Zobeck posted a 1.47 GAA on the season and picked up six victories, including five by shutout, third-most in a single season in Crusader men’s soccer history.
Chadd Sult returns on the back line for his second year after a freshman campaign in which he started the first six matches of his career before getting injured. Sult returned to play in the year’s final five contests and started each of the last four.
“These two played significant roles in the team as true freshmen starters, and the experience they gained from the 2008 season is evident as we see them play in 2009,” said Avery. “There is an unbelievable amount of depth in our sophomore group beyond just these two, however, and while they have played a back up role so far in their time at Valparaiso, their contributions to the program have been great. I suspect we will see many of this group emerge in the next year or two as varsity contributors. They have worked very hard and have improved a great deal. Players like Garrison Draper, Kevin Brown, Omar Figueroa, Andy Lynn, Elliott Coelho, and Tyler Sellers all play an important role in our program and have the potential to move into prominent roles on the field with the first team.”
Eight newcomers make their first appearance on the Valparaiso men’s soccer varsity roster in 2009, four of which transferred in from other institutions and four of which are true freshmen.
Connor Cappelletti arrives at Valpo as a junior after two standout years at Wallace State [Ala.] C.C., where he twice earned NJCAA All-Region honors on the back line. Roby Del Giudice was Cappelletti’s classmate at Wallace State and also arrives with junior eligibility. The midfielder was also a two-time NJCAA All-Region selection and collected 16 goals and 23 assists during his two years with the Lions.
Stefan Antonijevic comes in as a big presence in the midfield, standing 6’6”. He played in 16 matches for Marquette He did suit up last year for the Chicago Fire Super-20 squad which won the 2008 USL national championship, and also gained experience playing for the Serbian U19 National Team. Wei Ming Wong, also a midfielder with sophomore eligibility, arrives at Valpo from SMU, where he made two appearances in 2007 for the top-ranked team in the nation. in 2007, scoring a goal, but did not play collegiate soccer last year.
“The transfers we have added into the junior academic class, a few of which have an extra year of eligibility, are going to be big parts of our program this season and in the future,” said Avery. “Antonijevic was a very important recruit for us and has already changed the way we play. del Giudice and Cappelletti are two community college players that have joined us and fit in seamlessly on the field and off of it. Wong strengthens our group of players with the high-level experience he brings with him.”
Sam Haines comes to Valpo from McKinney Boyd [Texas] H.S., where he earned First Team All-Area and First Team All-Region 5A honors as a senior. The forward also was named the recipient of the Golden Boot award while leading Andromeda Soccer Club to the 2008 USYSA U17 national title. Fellow Texan Jonathon Smith also played for the national champion Andromeda S.C. at the USYSA U17 championships, while also earning District midfielder MVP honors, as well as All-State and All-Region recognition as a senior at McKinney H.S.
Midfielder Jaymie Bullard helped lead his Neuqua Valley [Ill.] H.S. squad to back-to-back state final four appearances in his junior and senior years, while also earning All-Conference and All-Sectional honors as a senior. Defender Nick Lincoln was a two-time First Team All-League honoree at Kimball Union [N.H.] Academy, helping the squad to two regional titles and the 2007 NEPSAC Class B championship.
“With the addition of the reserve team, something we are very excited about as a coaching staff, we had the ability to bring in a very large and talented group of freshmen players,” said Avery. “Fifteen true freshmen are on our roster this season, and our depth of talent has increased exponentially with their arrival. It is a diverse group from all over the country, and a group that makes us all very excited about our future as a soccer program. Several of the true freshmen will help us immediately with the first team - guys like Bullard, Haines, Smith and Lincoln. A few others are capable of stepping into the first team at any time if the situation arises. Kyle Breitenbach, Blake Reedy, Kevin Miller and Eric May come to mind there. Every player in the group, though, makes us better, and we are very excited to have them.”SCHEDULE
The Crusaders’ 2009 schedule is highlighted by five games against NCAA tournament teams from last season, including a Sept. 6 meeting at Brown Field against Michigan, which finished last year ranked among the top-15 teams in the nation.
The regular season begins Sept. 1 at Eastern Illinois, leading into the big home meeting on Sept. 6 with the Wolverines, who ended last year second in the Big Ten regular season standings and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The tilt with Michigan is the first of seven home games that Valpo will contest this year on the ProGrass of Brown Field.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier from there for the Crusaders, as they will travel to the Southeast to play at South Florida two days later on Sept. 8. The Bulls finished last season as Big East champions, advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, and closed the 2008 campaign ranked fifth in the nation. Other pre-league games include home meetings with IUPUI and Saint Francis [Pa.] and a road matchup at Western Michigan.
The eight-game Horizon League schedule kicks off for Valparaiso Sept. 25 as the Crusaders play at Detroit. Valpo hosts Loyola, which won the Horizon League Championship last year, Butler, Green Bay and Cleveland State during league play, while also traveling to Wright State, Milwaukee and UIC, which was the league regular-season champion and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Crusaders also have non-league games interspersed throughout the league schedule at Michigan State, which won the Big Ten regular season title, Bowling Green and IPFW. The regular season concludes Nov. 7 at Brown Field when Valpo hosts Cleveland State, while the Horizon League Championship will be contested Nov. 10-15, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We have grown into a team well known for its organization defensively and for the work ethic of the players,” concluded Avery. “This is a great place to start, and is hopefully a set of traits that will always be associated with Valparaiso soccer. What we need to do now, though, is add some purpose, flair, and creativity to our attack. I like what I have seen from the team in the preseason in this regard, and we have shown we are capable of being calm and poised with the ball while remaining tough and tenacious without it."