2011 Calvin Men’s Soccer Preview
Thursday, August 11, 2011
By Sports Information Student Assistant Andrew Knot
After two consecutive NCAA tournament runs and an elite eight finish last year, the Knights’ soccer program is on the precipice of annual national contention. Sustaining that success, and ultimately improving on it, makes for a daunting challenge, but Coach Chris Hughes, who remains confident in both his returning and incoming talent, is eager to see what transpires on the field of play.
Last season’s team finished 16-3-5 and 9-2-3 in conference. The Knights extended their streak of conference titles to four years and enter this year the seventh ranked team in the country, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA).
Calvin returns 18 players from last year’s squad, including a backline that features seniors Justin Ahearne and Miles Colago, junior Dan Nederhoed, and sophomore Lawrence Murray. All four defenders started four the Knights down the stretch and are expected to make a prominent impact on the upcoming season. Their defensive abilities aside, Colago and Ahearne put their offensive skills on display last year, scoring 10 goals combined, factoring in some decisive late-season results.
Hughes called the defense “a very strong part of this team,” adding that he expects them to perform “among the best in the nation.”
The defense is a crucial spot for the Knights, who will have a new face in the net next year. With three viable options – junior Michael Dolan, sophomore Mirza Harambasic and senior Jared Rushlau – to fill the void left by Ryan Bratt, Hughes calls the goalkeeper position “wide open.”
“Whatever keeper earns that opportunity, I think any of those three would do a splendid job for the program,” said Hughes.
Anchoring the midfield for the Knights will likely be junior Nick Holtrop. Holtrop started 22 of 24 games for Calvin last year while contributing two goals and three assists. Junior Chris Nance and sophomore Zach Willis add some dynamic speed to the Knights roster, with Nance on the flank and Willis playing up top. Junior Joe Broekhuizen also provides a net-minded spark, as Broekhuizen finished third on the team in points last season.
Senior Tyler Vegter has the makings of the Knights strongest offensive threat. Vegter, who saw time as a striker and a midfielder last year, will likely play the bulk of his minutes as a forward. Leading the squad with 16 points on 7 goals last year, Vegter is poised for another impressive campaign. Senior striker Brad Heethuis is another important returning piece up front. A second team All-MIAA selection a year ago, Heethuis scored five goals with one assist and 11 points in 2010.
The group of Heethuis, Vegter, Ahearne, and Colago make up a senior class that exudes leadership, on and off the field.
“Our senior class, whether it be verbal or nonverbal, is made up of true leaders, on the field and off. They’ve learned very well from the former captains. They have a knack for building that team chemistry,” said Hughes, who noted his anticipation of their leadership contributions.
The team chemistry is a distinct quality of this year’s team, said Hughes, recalling similar traits in the 2009 National Runner-Up team.
“I would say this group reminds me of the 09 season in that they are very cohesive, very tight. They know what they need to do. Now it’s about putting that together in 22 games,” he said.
But the goal-scoring threat of this team doesn’t end with returning player. Hughes characterized the class as “offensive,” which fills some holes left by last year’s seniors.
Hughes said of the class, “We look forward to these young freshmen coming in and challenging for spots.”
But the incoming class doesn’t mark the only change for the Knights. Along with the rest of the conference, the Knights will have to adjust to a change in the MIAA schedule. As opposed to the all-league tournaments of years past, this season will conclude with a four-team tournament, with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This change came as part of a conference wide effort to standardize conference tournaments and ensure an MIAA tournament bid.
“We’re going to adjust. It’s going to create a new dynamic for each program. We certainly welcome the challenge and will hopefully be ready and prepped for it. As always, we need to be ready every game, no matter what part of the season,” said Hughes.
In discussing a goal for the upcoming season, Hughes said simply, “Our goal, as it is every year, is to be competing in that final game for the MIAA championship.” He later mentioned the change brought about by the new conference tournament format.
“This year, [our goal] changes a little, because you are looking for that MIAA title, but also that national tournament berth,” he added.
But, as always, Hughes is less interested with opportunities than results. With considerable talent entering the 2011 season, Hughes is hopeful for another thriving year and expectant of successful results.
“The program is at a point where we are able to compete. Coaches are prepping and we’re excited about it,” he said.
The Knights open the year with a difficult non-conference schedule. Hughes expects four of Calvin’s six non-conference opponents to be ranked in the top 25. The Knights kick off conference play on September 13, with a home match against Adrian.