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2008 Calvin Men’s Soccer Preview

Friday, August 22, 2008

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Calvin will enter the 2008 season as defending MIAA champions. With nine returning starters including six that earned either All-MIAA first or second team honors, the Knights will look to contend once again for the conference crown.

Returning All-MIAA first team selections include senior midfielder A.J. Dufendach (Grand Rapids/Forest Hills Northern HS), junior defender Greg Snapper (Madison, Wisc./Madison West HS), junior striker Michael Holwerda (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS) and sophomore striker Scott Hooker (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS). Returning All-MIAA second team selections include junior defensive back Luke Holtrop (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS) and senior goalkeeper Darrin Cline (Grandville, Mich./Grandville HS).

Other returning starters include sophomore defensive backs Lucas Wilgenberg (Visalia, Ca./Central Valley Christian HS), Kyle Billin (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS) and senior midfielder Dan VanSlyke (Grove City, Pa./Grove City HS). Other returning letterwinners include senior midfielder Ben Buehrle (Wyoming/Tri-unity Christian HS), sophomore midfielder Kurt Van Sickel (Pittsburgh, PA/Trinity Christian HS), junior midfielders Blake VanWylen (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS), junior striker Alex McKenzie (Lindenhurst, IL/Antioch HS), senior striker Anthony Gratson (Rochester, Mich./Rochester Stoney Creek HS) and senior defensive back Zac DiPaolo (Silver Lake, OH/Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy).

“We are still a relatively young team but the difference this year is that we are a more experienced team,” said Calvin men’s soccer coach Chris Hughes. “The thing that I like about this group is that the players are very self motivated. They want to play hard and they want to win.”

Calvin opened the 2007 season with a 3-4-1 record but then caught fire, posting a 12-0-1 record over its final 13 regular season games. The unbeaten streak was finally snapped with a heart-breaking 1-0 loss to John Carroll University in a first round NCAA III Tournament match.

“We really turned the corner at a crucial point of the season,” said Hughes of his team’s run in 2007. “The immediate goal for the 2008 season is to keep the positive momentum rolling and to also take it to another level.”

Calvin allowed nine goals in its opening eight games in 2007 but then allowed only nine over its final 14, posting eight shutout victories along the way.

Calvin’s entire defensive unit returns anchored by Cline who finished 20th nationally in 2007 in goals-against-average (0.63).  Snapper and Holtrop both head into their third year as starters. Also returning are Wilgenberg and Billen who both stepped in as freshmen starters.

“The old cliché’ is always that ‘defense wins championships’ but it rings true every year,” said Hughes, a former All-MIAA defender.  “If we want to contend for the MIAA championship, our defense will have to perform at a high level.”

Dufendach will serve as a veteran member of Calvin’s midfield. Dufendach scored two goals and was credited with two assists while receiving MIAA Player of the Week honors once in 2007. He was also named to the NSCAA Division III Great Lakes All-Region third team. VanSlyke moved into a starter’s position in the midfield in 2007 and responded with strong play. In a late-season 2-2 double-overtime tie at Hope, VanSlyke cleared three balls off the back line, helping the Knights secure the tie and first place in the MIAA standings.

Calvin’s offensive attack will be built around the play of Holwerda and Hooker. Holwerda completed a remarkable comeback from a health setback in 2006 to provide nine goals, seven assists and 25 points. Hooker also accumulated nine goals and seven assists to finish tied for the team lead in scoring with Holwerda. Holwerda also scored four game-winning goals in 2007 while Hooker had one.

Van Sickel also came off the bench to provide three goals, an assists and seven points while Buehrle had three goals off the bench. Gratson also shook off early-season injuries to rack up four assists. McKenzie is another player to watch after receiving All-MIAA second team accolades in 2006.

According to Hughes, the Knights will also bring in a strong freshmen class. “I like our freshmen class,” said Hughes. “I think we will have some individuals who will be able to contribute right away and that should create healthy competition with our returning players. If we want to get to the next level as a team, we need to push each other in practice and I think this team will do that.”

Calvin will open its season on August 29 and 30 by co-hosting the Cal Bergsma Memorial Tournament with Hope. Calvin will face Goshen on August 29 and cross-town rival Aquinas on August 30. The following weekend, Calvin will travel to traditional Division III rival Wheaton (IL) September 5 and then journey up the road to face Trinity International on September 6. Calvin will again compete in the Ohio Northern Border Battle, facing Baldwin-Wallace on September 19 and host Ohio Northern on September 20.

“We have a very challenging non-conference schedule but it is a schedule that we are all looking forward to,” said Hughes. “We’ll need to be ready right out of the box and continue to build as we move closer to our conference schedule.”

Calvin will open its conference slate on September 24 when it hosts Albion. According to Hughes, the league schedule is becoming more difficult each and every year. “I think there are several high-quality coaches in our league and those coaches are taking great pride in the way they run their program,” said Hughes. “As a result, it is becoming much more difficult to pick up victories in our league, no matter who you play.”

Calvin will close out its MIAA schedule by hosting four of its final six games with the Knights hosting Alma, Kalamazoo, Olivet and Trine University while traveling to Hope and Adrian.

Calvin will also seek to maintain high academic standards this year as the Knights posted a 3.218 grade point average as a team during the 2007-08 academic year. Calvin returns five players who were named to the 2007-08 MIAA Academic Honor Roll for maintaining cumulative grade point averages of 3.50 or above. The five returning MIAA Academic Honor Roll honorees are Zac DiPaolo, Luke Holtrop, Michael Holwerda, Alex McKenzie and Greg Snapper.

Posted in: Men's Soccer: Preview
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