2009 Calvin Men’s Soccer Preview
Saturday, August 08, 2009
With 16 returning letterwinners including five who either received first or second team All-MIAA recognition a year ago, the Calvin men’s soccer team will seek to win its third consecutive league title this fall.
Over the last two years, Calvin has produced a combined won-loss record of 29-10-3 including 24-2-2 in MIAA play. A key to Calvin’s success has been its defensive play, particularly in conference games. During its 2007 MIAA title season, the Knights gave up just nine goals in league games to lead all conference schools. In 2008, the Knights gave up just eight goals in league play, again leading all MIAA schools.
Entering his eighth year at the helm of the Calvin men’s soccer program, head coach Chris Hughes realizes that contending for a league title always begins with defense. “Time and time again you hear that ‘defense wins championships’ and time and time again that statement rings true,” said Hughes, himself a first team All-MIAA defender on Calvin’s 1990 MIAA championship team. “Our goal this year is to have a chance to be playing for the MIAA championship heading into the final week of our schedule. In order for that to happen, we will once again have to to step our game up on defense.”
The bright spot for Calvin’s defense is the return of 2008 MIAA MVP Greg Snapper (Madison, WI/Madison West HS) who has been a three-year starter in the backfield. A two-time All-MIAA first team selection, Snapper was also named to the 2008 Great Lakes All-Region second team. Also returning are junior defensive backs Lucas Wilgenburg (Visalia, CA/Central Valley Christian HS), Chad Hart (Byron Center/South Christian HS) and Kyle Billin (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS) and sophomores Justin Ahearne (Hudsonville/Hudsonville HS) and Tyler Vegter (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS. Wilgenburg was a member of the 2008 All-MIAA second team.
“We have a good group of returning players on defense,” said Hughes who is 100-34-12 (.712) at the helm of the Knights. “The thing that I like as a coach is that we have some incoming players new to the program that will push our veterans for playing time. That type of competition should bring out the best in everyone which is always a goal of a coach.”
The one hole that will need to be filled is at goalkeeper as two-year starter and 2008 All-MIAA first team selection Darrin Cline has graduated. Candidates for the position include junior Ryan Bratt (Silver Spring, MD/Washington Christian Academy), sophomore Jared Rushlau (Grandville/Grandville HS) and five incoming freshmen.
“The starting goalkeeper position will go to the player that gives our team the best chance to win,” said Hughes. “We feel that we have some good candidates for the position. Now it’s a matter of seeing who steps up and makes the most of the opportunity.”
Returning midfielders include seniors Luke Holtrop (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS), Alex McKenzie (Lindenhurst, IL/Antioch HS), Blake Van Wylen (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS), junior Kurt Van Sickel (Pittsburgh, PA/Trinity Christian HS) and sophomores Kyle Kogge (Holt/Mason HS) and Kyle Batts (Hudsonville/Hudsonville HS). Along with Snapper and senior striker Michael Holwerda (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS), Holtrop will serve as a tri-captain this fall. An All-MIAA first team selection in 2008, Holtrop tallied three goals and two assists last season and has nine goals and six assists during his Calvin career. An All-MIAA second team selection in 2006, McKenzie racked up five goals and two assists in 2008 while Van Sickel had three assists.
At the forward/striker position, the Knights return three key returnees in Holwerda and juniors Scott Hooker (Hudsonville/Unity Christian HS) and Brad Heethuis (Jenison/Unity Christian HS). Hooker is a two-time first team All-MIAA selection and led the MIAA in scoring a year ago with 18 points on the strength of five goals and eight assists in league play. Hooker also led the Knights in scoring overall with nine goals, 11 assists and 29 points over the course of the 2009 season. For his efforts, Hooker was also named to the 2008 Great Lakes All-Region third team. A second team All-MIAA selection in 2008 and a first team All-MIAA pick in 2007, Holwerda heads into his final collegiate season with career totals of 20 goals, 15 assists and 55 points. Of his 20 goals, nine have been game-winners. A three-time member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll, Holwerda was also named to the 2008 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District second team. Heethuis also has found a way to score timely goals. Last fall in his first year of collegiate soccer, Heethuis scored three goals—all game-winners.
Hughes has also brought in a talented recruiting class that includes several freshmen and a handful of transfers. “We have some holes to fill on our roster and I think this incoming class will help fill those holes,” said Hughes. “Certainly the newcomers will have to earn their positions but I think they are hungry and eager for the opportunity to step right in.”
Calvin’s 2009 non-conference schedule is challenging. Of Calvin’s non-conference opponents, three concluded the 2008 season nationally-ranked and five advanced to the 2008 NCAA III Tournament.
Calvin’s season begins on September 4 and 5 when it participates at the Ohio Wesleyan Fred Meyers Invitational. The Knights will open the tournament against Rutgers-Camden - like Calvin, a participant in the 2008 NCAA III Tournament. The Knights will then face either Carnegie-Mellon or Ohio Wesleyan in the second round. Carnegie-Mellon not only bounced Calvin from the 2008 NCAA III Tournament, but also finished the year ranked 21st. Meanwhile, Ohio Wesleyan was ranked 15th in the final NSCAA Division III Top 25 poll in 2008 after advancing to the national semi-quarterfinals of the NCAA III Tournament.
On September 11 and 12, Calvin will co-host the Cal Bergsma Memorial Tournament with Hope. The Knights will open the tournament on September 11 against Wheaton (IL), ranked 23rd in the final 2008 NSCAA Division III Top 25 poll and a member of the 2008 NCAA III Tournament field. The following afternoon, Calvin will host a Kenyon team that finished 11-7-2 a year ago.
On September 18 and 19, Calvin will compete in the Wittenberg Invitational, facing Otterbein on September 18 and host Wittenberg on September 19. Otterbein finished 7-7-3 in 2008 while Wittenberg posted a 16-4-1 overall mark including a trip to the 2008 NCAA III Tournament.
“We have a challenging non-conference schedule but it’s the kind of schedule we need to face in order to prepare ourselves for our conference season,” said Hughes. “I think our players all look forward to playing a challenging non-conference schedule. That’s one of the reasons why they choose to come to Calvin - to have a chance to play against some of the best teams throughout the midwest.”
The 2009 season will also see Calvin move out the Great Lakes Region and into the Central Region. In addition to schools from the MIAA, the Central Region will includes schools from the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (SLIAC), Northern Athletics Conference and the University of Chicago and Washington University of Missouri from the University Athletic Conference (UAA).
Calvin’s 2009 MIAA schedule is set to begin on September 23 when it hosts Alma. The Knights will later face a stretch of three consecutive road games in the league but will play four of their final six games at home including a regular season finale on November 7 against rival Hope at Calvin’s Zuidema Field. “Once again, our main goal is to be playing for a shot at our conference title heading into the final week of the MIAA season,” said Hughes. “In order to do that, we’ll need to be focused right from the opening game of our league schedule. There are no teams you can take lightly. If you come out flat against anyone in our league, you can get beat.”
Despite the pressure of entering the 2009 season as two-time defending champion, Hughes is excited about the upcoming campaign. “I think everyone in our program is excited about the season,” said Hughes. “We have some questions that will need to be answered about our team but we’re looking at that aspect with anticipation, not trepidation. We are all looking forward to training camp and getting things started.”
An added goal to the upcoming year will be to earn the MIAA’s Team GPA Award for maintaining a cumulative team grade point average of 3.30 or above. The 2008-09 Calvin men’s soccer team just missed receiving the award, posting a team GPA of 3.208. “We’re proud of the way our guys have performed in the classroom and that should be expected at a school the caliber of Calvin College. “Our biggest goal as a program is to represent our school well both on and off the playing field. With the type of individuals we have in our program right now, I feel we are working hard to achieve that goal every day.”