Go hard or go home

Soccer Sports

Mens soccer looks to build off of last season’s success

By Sports Editor
Natalie Shirvanian

Schoolcraft Freshman Goalkeeper Jose Jimenez, (#13), takes a goal kick to start the Ocelots push for another goal on Sunday.
Photos by: Alex Regish

Schoolcraft Freshman Goalkeeper Jose Jimenez, (#13), takes a goal kick to start the Ocelots push for another goal on Sunday.

Being nationally ranked is nothing new to the Men’s Soccer team. The team has seen its share of NJCAA polls ranking the team in the Division 1 top spots consistently over the last few seasons As of August 3, Schoolcraft is ranked 9th in the NJCAA preseason polls for Division 1.

“At Schoolcraft we play for a NJCAA National Championship, there’s some steps along the way, some hurdles we have to cross to get there,” said head coach Rick Larson, who is entering his tenth season at the helm for the Ocelots. “One of them is to win the MCCAA, inside of that we’re playing Region XII games, and we want to win Region XII.”

During 2014, the team dominated the competition and successfully held the top spot in the MCCAA. The team was crowned MCCAA champions, won the NJCAA Region XII championship and secured a National Tournament berth. The team finished their season 17-3-1 overall and just a few games shy of a national championship.

The Ocelots did not land in their position without hard work and dedication. Several returning players who contributed to last season’s success are ready to rein the field. Returning players, such as sophomore midfielder/forward, Victor Contreras who had eight game-winning goals, ranking him 3rd overall in Division I and 30 points for the season and sophomore midfielder, Jon Quintana, who scored 8 goals and had 5 assists make up a solid offensive punch for the Ocelots.

Sophomore Billy Werthman, who is also returning defender said, “We also have a lot of talented incoming freshman this year, which is very exciting.” The expectations remain high as the team welcomes new recruits to the vanquishing team.

Incoming freshmen, midfield Connor Rutz (Walled Lake Northern High School), defense Kebba Sanneh (Southfield Lathrop High School) and midfielder Jacob Rosen (Vardar Soccer Club and AC Milan Detroit) bring fresh talent and skill sets that fit the mold of the team. Larson seeks missing puzzle pieces when recruiting new players stating, “One of the philosophies for me in player evaluation is that there are only additions, no subtractions.”

With new additions and returning players, the men train for the season one game at a time. Werthman said about preparation for big games, “We mentally prepare ourselves for the game throughout the week, leading up to the game,” and as they physically get ready, “position specific training help us in situations in the game.”

Larson’s strategy has guided the players to embrace the preparation for every single game saying, “I don’t think we’ve lost a home game in three years in my ten years we lose very little at home.”

The team is looking forward to the 2015 season with some solid competition inside the conference and region. Although the Ocelots split the regular season with Ancilla College and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College last year, Werthman explains, “Playing Cincinnati State is always exciting, and I’m looking forward to playing them. It is very hard to win at their home field.”

The Ocelots will face Cincinnati State Technical CC, one of their tougher matches, twice this season, their first meeting on Sunday, Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. at home. A few other teams the team plan on tightening up their shoe laces for are Lake Michigan Community College, Muskegon Community College and Ancilla inside the conference. Inside the region, within the Ohio conference are Cincinnati State Technical CC and Owens Community College. Larson added, “I’ve got a really mindful eye on Cuyahoga.” Cuyahoga has some good players that can give the Ocelots some competition.

The Ocelots look promising this season as they step onto the field with confidence.

For Werthman, winning the National Championship, “It isn’t a hope or a want, but an expectation.” Werthman returns this season with the mentality to come back stronger and tougher along with the whole team. “Our team’s goal since I first came on to this team last year was to win a National Championship,” also stating, “we almost achieved that goal by going to the Nationals.”

New additions on staff

In addition to new players, Larson has made some changes to his coaching staff for the season. The new additions brings vital experience to the Ocelot’s, keeping the players on track with their on and off field training. Training includes athletic development and technical skill work in the morning, and team training in the afternoon.

This season, three assistant coaches, Jeff Shuk, Alex Lubyansky and Greg Thompson are making their coaching debuting and will provide a new kind of chemistry that will be introduced to the team. Shuk played at Schoolcraft in 1989 and 1990, and also has a close relationship with Larson, playing soccer together 25 years ago. Goalie coach Alex Lubyansky apprenticed under Shuk. Also bringing his expertise Greg Thompson, who is the Athletic Developmental Specialist and also works for the AC Milan Detroit soccer club. The level of experience between coaches can be the ingredient mixed with the players to win the National Championship this season.

As the season kick starts, the team’s overall confidence to take on the conference and returning to the National Tournament is set high.

For rosters, game schedules and scores go to www.mccaa.org.