The Valparaiso men’s soccer program looks to continue its winning tradition entering the 2011 campaign, coming off of back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in program history. It will be a talented, experienced group taking to the pitch for the Crusaders, as 21 letterwinners, including seven starters, return from last year’s squad as Valpo takes aim at the top of the Horizon League standings.
Mike Avery returns for his fifth season at the helm of the Crusaders’ men’s soccer program after leading Valpo to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in program history. Last season, Avery led the Crusaders to a 9-8-2 record, matching the second-most wins in a single season all-time at Valpo, and guided the squad as it surrendered just 16 goals over 19 matches, tying the program record for fewest goals given up in a single campaign.
Avery’s coaching staff in 2011 will be comprised completely of Valparaiso soccer alums. Former standout goalkeeper Jeff Oleck returns for his third season as an assistant to Avery, having tutored the Valpo netminders as they’ve allowed less than a goal per game over the last two years. Joining the staff for the first time this year are Steve Shively, who will serve as the reserve team head coach as well as assisting the varsity, and J.J. Del Castillo, who will serve as a graduate assistant.
Redshirt junior Kyle Zobeck anchors Valpo’s group of goalkeepers entering the 2011 season. He split time in net last year with graduated senior and two-time Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year Ryan Schwarz, surrendering just four goals in nearly 650 minutes of action. Zobeck, a Horizon League All-Newcomer team selection in 2008, owns a career goals against average of 1.23, good enough for the top spot on the Crusaders’ all-time chart once he reaches the minutes minimum.
Zobeck also has already registered seven shutouts through two seasons of action, tied for fourth-most in Valpo history, and also ranks among the program’s all-time best in career saves. The goalkeeping corps also includes junior Tyler Eliasen and sophomore Tom Serratore, both of whom have seen playing time with the Valpo reserve side in their careers, as well as freshman Brock Taulbee.
“When you lose a player like Ryan Schwarz - a two-time Horizon League Goalkeeper of the year and an Academic All-American - it is obviously difficult to fully replace that,” said Avery. “I have to say, though, that I think we have the opportunity to be as strong, and maybe even stronger, in the goal this year than we have ever been in my time here. Kyle and Tom are both back to compete for the job, and both are coming off tremendous summer soccer experiences. Kyle anchored the Carolina Railhawks U23 side to a national championship and Tom led his Chicago Fire U19 defense to the national final of the USYSA McGuire Cup. Kyle will start as the assumed number one due to his age and length of service with the program, but Tom continues to improve. We have great confidence in both guys.”
It will be a very experienced back line that takes to the pitch for Valparaiso in 2011, as eight upperclassmen are among those vying for playing time in the back. This year’s defensive group is looking to take another step forward after a 2010 campaign in which the Crusaders tied a program record by giving up just 16 goals in 19 games.
The Crusaders will look to a pair of fifth-year seniors to anchor the back in the center in Stefan Antonijevic and Wei Ming Wong. Antonijevic, a two-time Second Team All-Horizon League selection, moves to the back this year after featuring in the midfield in his first two years at Valpo. Last season, he notched four goals, tied for second-most on the team, and added an assist as well. Meanwhile, Wong enters his second year as a starter at center back for the Crusaders, coming off a 2010 campaign in which he started every match and scored his first career goal.
“We enter the season with a very experienced and mature crew of defenders anchored by central defenders Wei Ming Wong and Stefan Antonijevic,” said Avery. “Both are fifth year seniors, and each brings a different skill set to the table that compliments the other. Stefan is not only tall and dominant in the air, but he is also very technical and capable of creating great attacking moments for us. Ming has incredible presence, leadership and toughness, and is a great voice for the team. These two are critical in keeping our shape right, and they have done a terrific job so far at embracing the role.”
A third starter from 2010 also returns on the back line, as senior Chadd Sult prepares for his final season. Sult started 17 contests in the back a season ago, appearing in all 19 games, and chipped in a goal and two assists on the offensive end. Other defensive possibilities include fifth-year senior Kelvin Zelee, who saw action in eight matches in 2010, and senior Lior Avisror, who was part of the starting XI in six of his seven appearances in his first year with the Crusaders, tallying an assist.
A pair of Crusaders with reserve-team experience in senior Kevin Brown and redshirt junior Elliott Coelho add depth to the Valpo back. The Crusaders also welcome a pair of newcomers to the defense, as Jordan Lewis joins Valpo as a redshirt junior after playing two years at Loyola, while Eric Nieto is in his freshman season.
“Our fullbacks can really get forward and are exciting elements of the attack for us in the system we are playing,” said Avery. “Kelvin will certainly impress with his pace on the right side. Chadd will likely start on the left for the early part of the season, and also attacks very well from these deep wide areas. Jordan and Eric could both figure into the mix at any time, and Kevin, Elliott and Lior all provide us with great depth.”
The midfield also is a very experienced pack of players for Valparaiso entering the 2011 season, led by four upperclassmen, including three who were regular starters for the Crusaders in 2010.
The trio of starters returning this season includes fifth-year senior Brendan Roth and juniors Kevin Miller and Jonathon Smith. Roth, who registered four goals and two assists as a sophomore, appeared in 17 games for Valpo last year, starting 13 times. Miller and Smith each saw the pitch in all 19 fixtures in 2010, starting 17 games apiece. Both juniors also picked up an assist each as well.
A number of midfielders who earned playing time off the bench last season return as well in 2011. Junior Jaymie Bullard played in all 19 matches, starting four times, and registered an assist. Sophomore Todd Vervynckt appeared in 15 contests, including one starting nod, as a rookie, while fellow sophomore Charles Barden tallied an assist while taking the field in five matches, including one start. Redshirt junior Andy Lynn will look to be in the mix this year after playing mostly on the reserve squad in his first two seasons, while freshmen Diego Calix and Zev Taublieb enter their first season as Crusaders.
“We ask a lot of our midfield players, with and without the ball, and we are very excited by the pool of players we can cycle through the four or five midfield spots,” said Avery. “Jonathon starred for us last year as an outside back, but has comfortably moved into the sitting midfield role. He is tough, has a great engine and he is critical to us as he holds down space which allows our outside backs to get forward. Kevin, Brendan, Jaymie, Todd and Charles have all impressed so far in preseason and will figure in to the mix, while Andy, Diego, and Zev are all very close to breaking in as well.”
The one position on the pitch where the Crusaders don’t have a returning starter entering 2011, Valpo nonetheless brings back a pair of experienced players among the group up front.
Senior Guy Shabtay made an instant impact in his first season at Valparaiso in 2010, earning Horizon League All-Newcomer Team honors. Shabtay took part in 15 matches as a junior last season, starting on four occasions. He found the back of the net four times, tying for second-most among Crusaders, including match-winning tallies at UNLV and in league action against Wright State.
Fifth-year senior Clayton Lyons also brings experience to the collection of players up top for the Crusaders. Lyons appeared in 16 matches off the bench for Valpo a season ago, and picked up four assists for the Crusaders two years ago as a sophomore. Junior Sam Haines also returns at forward after playing in five contests last year for Valpo, starting once. Junior Stipo Zeba and sophomore Fabian Urquiza earned valuable reserve experience last season, while freshman Gerardo Avelar joins the Crusaders in 2011.
“The high striker is probably the deepest pool of players we have, with many guys who are very close to one another in ability,” said Avery. “Who gets the time and who doesn't will sort itself out in training, and we look forward to some spirited competition. Guy is the leader of the pack right now and will start if healthy. The next person in will be between Gerardo, Sam, Stipo, Clayton or Fabian. All are big and strong players able to play with back to goal. We are really excited to see which of this group of talented guys will emerge because every team needs a reliable goal scoring presence, and we think we have plenty of players that could fill the role.”
Valparaiso’s schedule for the 2011 campaign is highlighted by a pair of home matches against teams which finished among the top-20 in the nation in 2010.
The Crusaders’ 2011 non-conference schedule is highlighted by a visit from powerhouse Ohio State, which earned a spot in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament last year and finished the season ranked 17th nationally, on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. Valpo will also take on major conference foes at each of its two early-season tournaments, facing Pittsburgh (Sept. 4) in addition to Duquesne (Sept. 2) at the Duquesne Invitational. The next weekend sees the Crusaders take on Northwestern (Sept. 11) and Northern Illinois (Sept. 9) at the NIU adidas Invitational.
The regular season begins this Friday, as Valpo hosts Calumet College on Friday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Other non-league meetings include home fixtures with IUPUI (Sept. 16), Oral Roberts (Oct. 9) and IPFW (Oct. 18), while the Crusaders will travel to face Western Michigan (Sept. 18) and Western Illinois (Oct. 2) as well.
The Horizon League portion of the schedule, in which Valpo faces each of the other eight league schools once, starts on Sept. 24 as the Crusaders visit Cleveland State. Valpo will also hit the road to take on Wright State (Oct. 7) and Loyola (Oct. 26), while hosting Detroit (Sept. 30), Milwaukee (Oct. 22) and UIC (Oct. 29). The regular season home finale at Brown Field will be Wednesday, Nov. 2, when the Crusaders host Butler, which closed the 2010 campaign ranked 11th nationally, while the regular season wraps up for Valpo at Green Bay on Nov. 5. The top six teams in the league’s regular season standings will make the 2011 Horizon League Championship, which begins Nov. 8.