Valparaiso (0-0-0, 0-0-0 Horizon)
Season-opening weekend highlighted by Big Ten challenge
Friday, Aug. 24 - 4 p.m. CDT - East Lansing, Mich. - at Michigan State (0-0-0)
Monday, Aug. 27 - 7:30 p.m. - Brown Field - St. Joseph’s (Ind.) (0-0-0)
This Week in Crusader Soccer: The Valparaiso men’s soccer team opens up the 2012 regular season this weekend with a pair of contests, traveling to Big Ten foe Michigan State for a Friday afternoon match before opening the home slate against St. Joseph’s (Ind.) on Monday evening. The start of the season marks the beginning of the Crusaders’ defense of their 2011 Horizon League regular season championship.
Following the Crusaders: Live stats for both of this weekend’s matches will be available through www.valpoathletics.com. WVUR, Valpo’s campus radio station, is scheduled to broadcast eight matches this fall, starting on Sept. 2 against Western Illinois. In addition, a pair of contests will be video streamed live on the Horizon League Network (Oct. 13, Oct. 24).
Head Coach Mike Avery: Mike Avery returns for his sixth season at the helm of the Crusader men’s soccer program after being named Horizon League Coach of the Year and guiding the team to the league regular season championship in 2011. Avery, who owns 38 victories as Crusader head coach, has led Valpo to three of the four winningest seasons in program history over the last three years. Under his watch, 21 players have earned All-League accolades, including three Goalkeeper of the Year honorees and one Defensive Player of the Year.
Series Notes: Michigan State - The Crusaders and Spartans have faced off 13 times on the pitch, with MSU holding a 10-1-2 advantage in the all-time series. The last meeting came in East Lansing on Sept. 30, 2009, where the 25th-ranked Spartans earned a 2-0 victory. Ryan Schwarz made two saves in goal for Valpo.
St. Joseph’s (Ind.) - The Crusaders hold an 8-2-1 edge in the all-time series with the Pumas, but the two squads have not met in the regular season since 2004. That last meeting, which came in Valpo on Sept. 7, 2004, saw the Crusaders earn a 2-1 victory despite playing a man down for 60 minutes. Chris Goss and Jon Brighton tallied for the Crusaders, while Jeff Oleck stopped five shots.
Scouting the Opposition: Michigan State - The Spartans, who were selected third in the Big Ten preseason poll, went undefeated in two exhibition games, drawing 1-1 with IPFW and downing Duke, 1-0. Michigan State is coming off a 2011 campaign where it went 7-8-4, including 2-2-2 in Big Ten action.
St. Joseph’s (Ind.) - The Pumas posted a 4-12-2 record in 2011 and have been projected to finish in 13th place in the GLVC this season. Among their first two exhibition matches this year was a trip to fellow Horizon League foe Green Bay, where the Phoenix earned a 5-0 win.
Crusaders Picked Third in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso picked up the most first-place votes of any Horizon League team en route to being chosen to finish in third place during the 2012 season, according to preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders earned three of the eight first-place votes. Only Wright State and Cleveland State were selected ahead of Valpo.
Looking Back at 2011: The Valparaiso men’s soccer team captured the university’s first Horizon League regular season championship in any sport, as well as the soccer program’s first conference title since 1998, by going 9-6-5 overall and 5-1-2 in Horizon League action. The Crusaders had seven players earn postseason accolades from the Horizon League and boasted the league’s Coach of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
Strong Defense: Under Avery’s direction, last year’s Crusader squad continued to be strong in the back, surrendering just 14 goals on the season to set a new program single-season record for fewest goals allowed. The last three years have seen Valpo post three of the top four defensive seasons in program history.
Zobeck Stopping All Shots: Fifth-year senior goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck is back for his final go-round between the pipes after reaching new heights in 2011 as a junior. Zobeck earned Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year accolades and earned a spot on the NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Third Team after setting new program single-season marks for goals against average (0.66) and shutouts (11). The senior enters his final year Valpo’s career record holder in both categories as well, with a 0.97 GAA and 18 career clean sheets.
And He’s Smart, Too: Beyond his proficiency on the field, Zobeck is also a standout in the classroom, earning a spot on the NSCAA Scholar All-American Third Team following last season. This summer, Zobeck was also honored as a Tau Beta Pi Laureate, the highest distinction for a senior engineering student in the United States. He is one of just 83 Laureates chosen since 1982.
Award Winners Returning: Zobeck is one of four returning Horizon League postseason honorees this year for the Crusaders. Jon Smith was a Second Team All-League selection as a junior and returns in 2012 for his final season. Meanwhile, both Eric Nieto and Zev Taublieb are back for their sophomore campaigns after earning All-Newcomer Team accolades as freshmen in 2011.
International Experience: Among the newcomers for this year’s Crusader squad is midfielder Alvaro Betancourt, a native of Puerto Rico. Betancourt is the first senior international player in Valpo men’s soccer history, as he comes to Valparaiso having already earned a pair of caps for his country. The freshman made his senior international debut in a World Cup qualifier against St. Lucia last November, and this summer captained the Puerto Rico U-20 side as it advanced in CONCACAF U-20 Championship qualifying.
An Early Opener: The season opener on August 24 marks the earliest in program history that the Crusaders have played a regular season contest. Previously, the 2006 Valpo squad hosted DePaul on August 25, coming out of that fixture with a 2-0 victory.