That's the Goal
September 11, 2013
It seems like such a simple task. Stand in front of an 8 x 24 metal, netted rectangle for 90 minutes, watching all of the action enfold in front of you and occasionally catching, punching, or deflecting the ball as it comes your way. You may have to resort to near-tackles as you go for the ball and, when necessary, boot it downfield.
It sounds so simple to be a goalie unless you’ve actually put on a different-colored jersey than your teammates and played between the pipes on a regular basis. Then, a whole new world is opened up, one filled with equal parts exhilaration and terror, and slaps on the back and loneliness, and wins and losses. How you deal with all of that largely determines playing time and, ultimately, the success of the team.
Such is the challenge that lies in front of 23rd-year head coach Jim Rickard and his coaching staff as they look for just the right goalie who can lead them back into GSAC contention. And, in contrast to the last three years when they had just one option, now they have three excellent candidates from which to choose, sophomore transfer Christian Bryant, and freshmen Kyle Cunningham and Casey Phillips.
Whoever the choice is, he will have plenty of help in front of him with four veteran defenders doing everything they can to keep the ball away from scoring territory. Leading this foursome are center defender incumbents Austin Michelson, a senior who returns for his third year as a center defender, and junior Ricardo Vazquez, whose bruising style gives opponents something to think about. In addition, junior Jordan Edwards could find playing time further up the field, too, enabling Rickard to move the offensive-minded Michelson, last year’s second-leading scorer, up front as he did last year.
With Edwards’ possible move inside, sophomore Ryan Dolan is more than capable to take his place on the right side with an ever-evolving game that features ball possession and composure. Across the field, junior Jamison Kropilak has paid his dues, parlaying hard-nosed play and an intuitive nature into a starting spot on the left side. Freshman Christopher Logan will provide solid depth right away and should be part of the regular rotation.
The hope is that, when challenged, the last line of defense will clear the ball up the field where a quartet of midfielders is ready to control the tempo of each match. Senior Kevin Scheunemann is a prototypical center midfielder with the ability to defend and attack the goal while running mate and sophomore Joey Mikulas is following in his footsteps with a big foot and the tenacity to chase down opponents. Junior James Obimbo and sophomore Vini Barauna, both who logged major minutes last year, at the very least will give the club much-needed depth while pushing for even more time.
Meanwhile, on opposite sides of the pitch, junior Brett Croft, who could also see time at center midfield, and freshman Zach Klindworth will chase down opponents and move the ball up the field on the outside. Senior Kenny Gardner, who has made multiple starts in his first three years, and sophomore Nick Saldivia provide quality depth.
Although there are several offensive threats among these defenders and midfielders, Rickard is hoping that his striking forwards will do their jobs of turning teammate passes into goals. His hopes should be realized with the return of senior Jorge Serrano, who redshirted last year after putting together an All-GSAC performance in 2011 when he led the team with 32 points (10 goals, 12 assists), and sophomore Austin Rochow, who started fast in 2012 and wound up with 12 points. This tandem could be among the most lethal in the GSAC.
The Mustangs will need to be offensive if they intend to be among the elite GSAC clubs and qualify for the postseason. They’ll be tested by a ten-game conference slate, highlighted by home contests against No. 6 Concordia, last year’s GSAC champion and an NAIA National Tournament quarterfinalist, Biola, and Westmont. Non-conference action features matches against No. 16 Jamestown of North Dakota and No. 14 Oklahoma Wesleyan.