Course Correction Points Warriors in the Right Direction

Submitted by: Ron Smith - August 28th, 2014

 

2014 Westmont Men's Soccer Team

2014 Westmont Men’s Soccer Team

“We made a conscious decision to choose chemistry over talent,” said Westmont Men’s Soccer head coach Dave Wolf reflecting on the reason for his program’s upward turn. “There are all kinds of other things that happened, which in cumulative effect all contribute to where we are at now, but the foundation of the trajectory was that concept.”

Wolf has an impressive record of 280-131-43 (.661) in his 23 years as Westmont’s head coach, making him the program’s winningest coach. However, in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, Wolf’s teams produced a total of just eight wins. Last season, the Warriors rebounded with a record of 11-7 overall and 6-4 in Golden State Athletic Conference play.

In a candid interview, the coach shared his perspective on the experiences that brought about the renewal.

“Westmont Soccer has a long history of culture and legacy and heritage and I think I lost sight of that a little bit and needed some reminders,” said Wolf. “It goes all the way back to January 2013. Since that point, the decision making process has always returned to choosing chemistry over talent. If we felt like it was a decision that helped to perpetuate that concept, we did it, and if we didn’t, we said ‘no’ – no matter what that might have looked like on paper or to an outsider looking in.

“We had taken risks on players that we knew we were only going to have (on our roster) for a short time,” explained Wolf. “The reason we took those risks is because they were very talented individual players and at the time I felt like we could live with the consequences and hopefully their individual talent would translate into on the field success. It did in some cases, but it didn’t in other cases and where it hindered us was in the overall culture of our program.”

For Wolf and his coaching staff, the process of transformation required courage.

“We started off really nervous, because we moved away from a couple of players in January 2013 that were among our most talented,” said Wolf. “Obviously, you can feel super good about the principle that you are taking a stand on. Then you take a look at your roster and say, ‘Okay, now that I am a super principled guy, what do I do with that lot?’ So it started off very nervy.

“The first positive thing that happened was that the guys were enjoying themselves more,” continued Wolf. “The enjoyment came from the collective spirit. The joy came from knowing we were all on the same page. The joy came from a sense of togetherness.

“The next step came from the validation of winning some games in the fall of 2013. I’m in a similar place this year. We had a positive year both relative to the experience as well as the results.

“We took another step in the spring when we beat a couple of good teams. We beat Cal Poly SLO on the road and we beat the Ventura County Fusion. It wasn’t a full strength Fusion team, but we beat a team with some outstanding players. Those wins reinforced our thinking that there is something to our commitment to chemistry and cohesion.”

Explaining what chemistry and cohesion mean, Wolf said, “The willingness to work for each other is a part of it. If you see a teammate is struggling a little bit, you find a way of covering for them or do their job so that they can recover.

“Another part is when your fighting spirit is a collective fighting spirit. It is one thing for one guy to make a great effort individually. It is better if everybody on the field wants to do that. Also, there are so many ups and downs in a soccer game. When it is not going good, your ability to ride those times out is helped by good chemistry. It keeps out the finger pointing and the blame game.”

FALL 2014

“So far this year, it has just been a continuation of the spring,” reported Wolf. “It has been very smooth. I don’t feel like we are starting over; I simply feel like we just had a break from the end of spring and we just picked right back up. That is not common. I think that is somewhat attributable to the upward trajectory and somewhat attributable to the chemistry.”

Another product of the team’s chemistry has been the level of fitness with which the players report to training camp.

“Every returning player scored better on the fitness test than the previous year,” reported assistant coach Johnny Whallon.

“The work ethic over the summer was strong,” assessed Wolf. “Everybody talks a good game at the end of the spring, but then June 1 rolls around and you have to drag yourself out of bed and do some work. Their fitness shows me that their money was where their mouth was.

“Soccer players, aerobically, are pretty strong creatures. However, there is a level that is very hard to get to. If you can get there, your fitness can compensate for areas of weakness. I’m not ready to say that is a definite for this year, but because of the fitness level the team came into camp with, they can be pushed in a way that we can explore that possibility.”

ROSTER

The Warriors return 15 veterans to the 2014 team, to which they add 10 newcomers. Five seniors – consisting of Jonathan Yeeles, Cody Howen, Daniel Johnsen, Sebastian Kent and Patrick Wynne – return to provide leadership. In 2013, the group provided 40 percent of the Warriors’ goals (12 of 30).

“In any given year, you have to pay close attention to last year’s sophomores that are returning as juniors,” observed Wolf. “You are definitely looking for them to move from contributors to foundational pieces. This year that includes Josh Glover, Muhammad Mehai, Brandon Talsma, Blake Joyner and Tanner Wolf.”

Goalkeepers:

In 15 starts last season, Glover produced a goals-against average of 1.31 and tallied 54 saves.

“Josh is verbally outstanding – a really good communicator,” said Wolf. “Secondly, he is very good with his feet – a super distributor. We can do things as a team passing the ball that a lot of teams can’t do because of how comfortably we can play back to him. His shot stopping is very good. Probably, the area of growth we’d like to see is claiming balls in the air, but he is not bad there either. He really doesn’t have any weaknesses, he just has areas he could make a little better.

“Josh went away this summer and was playing in Chicago. He is in a different place now. He is settled and leading. The early returns are very positive on him.”

Backing up Glover this season will be freshman Spencer Petty.

Defenders:

“We have three players returning that have played big minutes for us,” said Wolf, “Muhammad (Mo) Mehai as a center back, Brandon Talsma as an outside back and Blake Joyner who has played big minutes for us, but not in the back. That is a move we are making. We are planning on playing Blake as a right back and flip Brandon to the left.

“The question mark becomes who partners with Mo in the middle. We have some really good candidates. Last year in the fall, Patrick Wynne got most of those minutes when either Marcos (Lopez) or Mo were out. In the springtime, we gave Genaro Hurtado the reps. As a first year player, we wanted to see developmentally what we could do with Genaro, so he played most of the time.

“The battle for the starting role is between those two, with the possibility that we will play all of them together as a three-central back system. The other possibility is that Mo might move into the defensive midfield role. Mo is so dominating in the air, that when he is in a midfield position you can protect your back row. The ball doesn’t need to get to your back row if his heading can keep the ball going forward.

“Of the new players, Josh Constant, out of the San Diego Surf Academy team, is a talented passer. He may be a little behind in some of the physical aspects of defending, but with the ball at his feet, he is a really nice looking player.”

Midfielders:

“The first guy that I put down on the line-up sheet is the number six player – the defensive central midfielder,” explained Wolf. “This is a role that has a significant influence on the system that you will ultimately end up playing.

“We are moving Wilton Quintero into this position and giving him a crack at it. Wilton is a very nice passer of the ball. He has terrific range and accuracy. He is probably at the top of our team in a stat we call possession percentage – how many passes out of 10 are you completing?

“In the number eight position – a box to box midfielder – is Tanner Wolf,” said the coach of his son. “Jonathan Yeeles is the number 10 – an attacking midfielder. Tanner and Jonny will play close to each other. At their top level, they are the two most elite players that we have. The difference between the two is that Jonny has some production and stats in his background, but Tanner does not. Tanner has some pressure on him to produce this year – definitely to produce assists, hopefully a few goals as well. Wilton’s job is to pass us side to side; Tanner’s job is to pass forward.”

“Jonny is our guy. He’s our team captain; He’s our best player,” stated Wolf. “Tanner and Jonny in tandem with Wilton is a real critical part of our team. We could also play Mo in the number six role to give Wilton a breather or if we are playing a team who plays in the air a lot. But right now, we are looking for a fourth guy who can step in and play for 15 minutes in the central midfield.

Yeeles produced five goals, including three game winners, and notched four assists last season.
“Out wide in the midfield, we are looking at Rodrigo Diaz-Valdez and Matt Lariviere. They are different kinds of attacking players and both effective. They like to go; they want to take people on. Matt is a relentless, straight forward speed attacker. Rodrigo attacks through guile and craftiness and little flicks and tricks. He is very creative.

“Kolby McInally, who is a late signing for us, is looking like a really good player. He’ll play somewhere out wide – either as an outside back or outside midfield player. He is a combination of Rodrigo and Matt. He has some quickness and can beat an opponent with pace, but he also has the tricky piece.”

Forwards:

“Cody Howen and Daniel Johnsen, the two vice-captains, will play in the center forward channel,” said Wolf. “Cody plays the position through mobility. He’s always on the move with very intelligent runs. He wants to pick the ball up on the go.”

Howen scored four goals for the Warriors in 2013 and contributed five assists.

“DJ plays the position with strength. He’s a little better at posting up and holding people off. DJ is more central and stays in that part of the field while Cody is all over the place. The job for both of them is the same, which is to be a part of the creation of chances. That may mean making the chance for someone else, they get the chance for themselves or they might get on the end of a service. Their job is to be around the creation of chances.”

Another option for Wolf is Austin Lack who played in 10 games and recorded one goal.

“Austin is a very gifted attacking player,” noted Wolf. “He is quick and very aggressive. Austin is a nightmare to play against for the opposing back four because he chases. He is always playing at a very high tempo.”

SCHEDULE

After the annual exhibition against UCSB and a scrimmage with Point Loma Nazarene, the Warriors open the season on Friday, August 29 with a home game against Pomona-Pitzer. The following weekend, Westmont heads to Santa Clarita to play two games at The Master’s College. On Friday, the Warriors take on Westminster (Utah) and on Saturday they face Embry-Riddle (Ariz.)

“Those are two well-regarded NAIA teams,” noted Wolf. “That will be an early season test that will have potential implications for at-large berths (into the national tournament) and rankings. It will be on turf in Santa Clarita, so it could be brutal. That weekend will test our quality, our depth and our fitness. Everything we want to know about our team will be on trial at that early season tournament.”

Also on the non-conference schedule are home games against Kansas Wesleyan on September 13 and Marymount on September 16.

The conference season begins on Saturday, September 20 when the Warriors host GSAC newcomer William Jessup.

“There is a motivation that is present in that first season that just doesn’t exist at any other time,” said Wolf. “We will have to deal with their desire to make a good first impression.”

This year’s GSAC scheduling is in a three-pod system. Westmont’s pod includes William Jessup and Biola. As a result, the Warriors will play those two schools twice during the regular season.

“The Biola games are personal to me in a very positive way because Todd Elkins is the coach,” offered Wolf. “Todd played for me here and he is a coach and a person that I am very fond of. That creates something special about that game. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of him and what he has done.

“The other part of those games is that our season ended at Biola last year. The remembrance of that will always be fresh and always matter.”

The Warriors will match up with Concordia, last year’s GSAC Champion, as part of the Homecoming festivities on October 18.

The GSAC Championship first round games will be played on November 5 with the semifinals and finals set for November 8 and 15 respectively.

The NAIA National Championship opening round games will be on Saturday, November 22 at campus locations around the country. The rest of the rounds will be played at the Hilltopper Stadium and Seacrest Soccer Complex in Delray Beach, Fla. December 1-6.