Men’s Soccer Looking for Great Launch to Next Half-Century

Submitted by: Ron Smith - August 27th, 2015

 

2015 Men's Soccer Team

2015 Men’s Soccer Team

Westmont Men’s Soccer turns 50 this year and looks to continue the Warriors’ winning tradition into a new half-century. Armed with an experienced roster mixed with some quality recruits, Westmont head coach Dave Wolf has designs on this year’s team reaching the next level.

“We are certainly on an upward trajectory and have been for a while,” said Wolf. “It is a good place to be, a positive place to be and an optimistic place to be. I also feel like we are at a critical juncture. For us to take that next step and continue an upward trajectory, we have to go and do something this year.”

Westmont Men’s Soccer is no stranger to success. In its first 50 years, the Warriors played 998 games and posted a .660 winning percentage (609-290-99). The Westmont program claims one NAIA National Championship (1972) and 17 national championship appearances.

“When you look at the landscape of college soccer, any program that is averaging double-digit victories each season on an annual basis is doing something very difficult to do,” asserted Wolf. “Just the pure mathematics of it is very impressive.”

Perhaps even more impressive is the stability of a program that has known just four head coaches in 50 years – all of whom produced winning records. All four coaches will be present for the 50th Anniversary Celebration which will take place over Homecoming Weekend (October 2-4).

Jerry Huhn got the program started in the 1965 season and produced a record of 5-2-5 in the inaugural year. Russ Carr coached for 17 years from 1966-82, recording a .642 winning percentage (202-106-31). Bob Fortosis took over in the 1983 season and coached the team to a .695 winning percentage (114-45-18) over eight seasons. Wolf took the reins in 1991 and has accumulated a 288-137-45 record (.661) in the 24 seasons since.

“I appreciate that there was quite a bit of diversity in the previous coaches and I think that was a very good thing,” said Wolf. “From the style of coaching to the players that played in those eras, there was so much diversity, so many flavors and so much creativity.”

THE 2015 CAMPAIGN

“You don’t put a schedule together like this unless you like your team,” said Wolf when reflecting about the teams he will play this year. “If you look at our exhibition/scrimmage schedule – Cal State Bakersfield, UCSB and Azusa Pacific – that speaks volumes about what we think about our team.

“Then you look at our trip to Ohio with #4 Rio Grande – perennially the number one ranked team in the country – and Point Park (Pa.) who finished in the top-25 in last year’s final poll.”

The game against Rio Grande will be the 1,000th game in program history.

“Then we play #3 Marymount who was a national semifinalist and we play Fresno Pacific away. It is the toughest schedule I have seen in a long time.

“But, I believe in the group. I think this is a group that can travel and play in these kinds of game. They went down last spring against a really good UC Irvine team and played them really tough. I think the schedule is directly reflective of the group that I have and their capability.”

The season opener will take place on Saturday, August 29 against Roosevelt (Ill.) beginning at 1:00 p.m. Also on the non-conference schedule is Sierra Nevada, which will be playing its inaugural season.

The Warriors will open Golden State Athletic Conference play on Wednesday, September 23 when they travel to Santee for a game against San Diego Christian.

“I have had the same opinion of the GSAC for years on end,” said Wolf. “I have the upmost respect for the GSAC as a league. We have obviously had some significant losses over the years and Concordia is the most recent. But I think that the men’s soccer programs have responded to those departures very well.

“Programs have seized growth opportunities – Hope International being a great example of that last year. You still got a few old dogs – Jim Rickard (The Master’s), Randy Dodge (Vanguard) and myself are the old codgers now. Menlo is joining the league; Eric Bucchere is the coach there, someone I know very well. He is a really sharp young coach. I think men’s soccer is doing great in the GSAC. I think it is still very tough, very competitive.

“I think you have to put Vanguard at the top of the list. They have gotten to a couple of national tournaments recently. They have competed most consistently with the top teams in the GSAC. You give them the nod and give them their due as a result of that. After Vanguard, I think it is a ‘pick’em, choose’em’.”

The GSAC Conference Tournament will take on a new configuration this season. The opening rounds for the men will be played at campus sites on Friday, November 6 with the number six seed playing at the number 3 seed and the number five seed playing at the number four seed. Seeding is determined by order of finish in the GSAC standings.

The men’s and women’s semifinals and championship games will be played at a single pre-determined site (yet to be announced) the following weekend. The men’s semifinals will take place on Thursday, November 12, and the women’s semifinals will be played the following day. The championships for both genders will be played on Saturday, November 14.

PRIORITIES

“Throughout the spring last year, we felt like we were continuing to make good, steady process,” reported Wolf. “We finished up the spring and thought to ourselves that this was a group we could put on the field with no new additions and feel really good about our line-up, about our personnel and about our capabilities. That was a really nice place to end up in the spring.

“The question is, ‘Can we turn performance into productivity – into more positive results than we have had?’ We had a very nice playing team last year; one of the best playing teams I have ever coached here. But, we have to translate those performances into results, or translate possession into goals, or translate statistical dominance into scoreboard dominance.

When I think about it, I ask, ‘How can we take a string of very good performances and produce more wins?’ It has to do with the fitness of the players, the meshing of the team and the chemistry. That is the challenge. When you looked at the run of the games last year, we were on top of most of the situations we were in, but it didn’t always translate into the final score.

“If I had to identify the top priority for our team this year stylistically, I would say that we need to become a more aggressive team in the final third of the team. I think it is the top priority because I think ultimately it will have the biggest impact on the overall goal, which is ‘How do we turn good performances into good results?’

“The single attribute that will have the most impact on that umbrella goal is our aggression in the final third of the field. I don’t think that is just the attacking players. Our back row will also need to be more productive. It must be a collective team mentality.”

THE TEAM

“This is a group that has grown up together,” noted Wolf. “One of the things that started us on this trajectory was some decisions that we made in January of 2013. Decisions to go in the direction of chemistry rather than the talent direction, that is, related to our recruiting.

“Even this summer, I had the opportunity to add some pretty talented players to our roster that I declined because I believe in this group and the way that they are right now,” said Wolf. “It is not unusual to look at your team and see players that are developing in your program. It is unusual to see that happening with a large group of players simultaneously.

“I think that is where this particular team is at. They have grown together. Many of them who are playing prominent roles now, had insignificant roles when they began. They have worked to get better individually, and in that, they have found collective collaboration. They have risen together.

“I think there is a tremendous amount of shared experience in this team – both on and off the field. There isn’t a coach in the country who in August says, ‘My guys don’t really get along that well. The chemistry’s not right.’ But I’m not talking about it just generically. I’m talking about it in some really specific ways. This group has done a lot of life together. I feel like I am continuing to see the impact of that in their on-field performance. Coaches use that frequently as a cliché to describe their team. But I think it is real in this particular group, so I want to distinguish it in this group.”

GOALKEEPERS

“We have a great battle in the goal,” said Wolf. “Spencer Petty didn’t play a lot for us in the fall, but he had a very good spring. He has continued to grow in confidence. That being said, Josh Glover was an All-GSAC goalkeeper last year. Josh hasn’t dropped off, but Spencer has made up a lot of ground. That is going to be a very interesting battle to evaluate during training camp.

“I would like to see both of them grow a little bit more in their aerial presence. If we could get a little bit more of that quality out of our goalkeepers, I think that would bump us one more notch down the road. But, I think our goalkeeping is really solid. Anytime you have an All-GSAC goalkeeper returning, that is a real positive. I think Spencer is going to challenge strongly, but I also think Josh is going to have a great response to that. It’s going to be really fun and it’s going to be hard to score in practice.”

BACKS

“The word I would use is ‘interesting’,” said Wolf. “We had a very good center back pairing with Muhammad Mehai and Genaro Hurtado. Mo was an All-GSAC performer as a center back. We moved Mo in the spring and played him in a different part of the field because we wanted to give Josh Constant some minutes in the spring time. Josh did very well. We have three really good center backs – only two of them are going to play in the first 11. This is where the chemistry piece is going to be interesting.

“The two Blakes – Blake Joyner and Blake Homan – come into training camp as the incumbents on the outside; Blake Joyner on the left, Blake Homan on the right. They are both very aggressive, fit, tenacious man-markers and also both pretty good attackers out of the back.

“One of the ways that we need to turn good performances into good results is to get some stats out of those two guys – especially in terms of them serving balls into the box and getting into the box themselves. We have backs that can score goals and we need our backs to score goals. They need to help us on set pieces, they need to get forward and they need to get involved on the offense.”

MIDFIELDERS

“The two guys that you start with in the center of the midfield are Tanner Wolf and Wilton Quintero,” said the coach. “Those two guys are the most influential players on are team, as it relates to the style that we play. Tanner was an All-GSAC player last year and our team MVP. ”

I think that the challenge for our team collectively is epitomized in Tanner as an individual player – can he turn his level of play into productivity – not necessarily goals or assists, you can’t define it that easily – but he needs to produce for us. He is one of the best players in the league. We need him to be good.

“Wilton is the most competitive guy on our team. He’s a great competitor. One of the reasons that Tanner has gotten as good as he has is how Wilton makes him work in training.

“Another question is, ‘What is Yazi Hernandez going to do for us. On paper, he was the number one recruit last year. Due to injury, we didn’t have him last year. He’s probably the guy I am most excited to see where he will play. He is ultra-talented. When he is healthy and at 100 percent, he can do things that no one else on our team can do.

“Tim Heiduk comes locally from Dos Pueblos High School. He is already an incredibly decorated player – Channel League Offensive Player of the Year last year, he has been on two national championship teams and played in four consecutive final fours with Santa Barbara Soccer Club. Somebody is going to have their hands full keeping him off the field. Maybe he ends up playing a little bit in the back, I’m going to try to play him in the midfield initially. We have four good center midfield players, It’s great to have depth and we may try to find a way to play all four of them. Those are guys that are good enough that you change your system to try and get them on the field.

“The spring had Austin Lack and Matt Lariviere starting out on the outside of the midfield. That is a bit of a positional switch for Austin. One of the reasons for that is because of the biggest switch we made in the spring time, which was moving Brandon Talsma up front, which is where he will play for us this year.

“We moved Austin out wide and from the first moment that we did it, we liked it. He is really comfortable out there where he has a little bit more space and is able to face players. When you play up front, you have to play with your back to players.

“Austin and Matty have two outstanding attributes. Number one, they both have tremendous pace. Number two, they love taking people on. They get the ball and they go. On a team, you’ve got to have some of that. Tanner and Wilton can pass you to death, but at some point, somebody has to beat somebody and get to the goal.

“The one trademark of all good passing teams is that they have variety. Austin and Matty give us the variety. They are a little unpredictable, a little all-over-the-place, a little rambunctious. They are super aggressive, they love running at the defensive and they love stretching the team with their runs. If Tanner, Wilton and Yazi have options when they are on the ball, we are going to have fun. If those three are only passing to each other, we are not going to get anywhere. But if they can pass to each other a little and then find one of those roadrunners, then we can have some fun.

“This is also where the incoming class comes into the equation – Gabe Thurner, Collin Scott, Dash Wulterin and Asher Booth – all of those guys could end up playing out in the wide channel, though we think we will play Asher probably more as a front player. These guys are hybrid players. Dash and Gabe can play inside and outside, Collin is a little more of a wide player. That is where you will see these guys competing and getting some minutes.”

FORWARDS:

“Brandon Talsma started a lot as a right back for us last year,” said Wolf. “We got to a point that we thought that a change of scenery would be good for him. We used the spring to make some adjustments to get the younger players some playing minute, but we learned some things about the older players.

“Brandon’s effectiveness as a center forward and as a front player was the biggest surprise to us. The things that drove you a little batty about coaching him as a back, are the things that make him good as a striker. As a defender, he is a little bit eccentric, a little bit too loose, a little bit too creative. I don’t need creative defenders. I need defenders that stop guys. He’s a little bit of an individualist player. Those things work really good up front where you need those qualities.

“The freedom as a front player has suited him very well. Physically, he is very powerful. He hits a ball a ton. The power of his shooting is remarkable. I’m really happy for him. It doesn’t often happen that players late in their careers get a transformative moment. It has been great. Additionally, he has matured and become a great leader.

“Asher Booth and Davies Kabogoza are the other two that will play in that forward channel.”