By Sophie Kelner
The men’s soccer team begins their season with a 1-1 record after going 1-0-2 in preseason play under the direction of new Head Coach Kirk Harwat.
Harwat spent the last five years as the assistant coach for the squad.
The previous coach, Ali Kazemaini, stepped down after the conclusion of last year’s season when the Vikings finished the year 7-8-2 and failed to earn a playoff berth for the Horizon League Championship Tournament.
Sophomore forward Gabriel Pewu explained the transition has gone well since Harwat has been with the program for the previous five seasons.
The coaching philosophy for the Vikings has changed for the squad as Harwat hopes to focus on the on-field management and the men’s preparedness—especially in the final moments of the game.
“I would say the biggest change will be my in-game management and player rotation,” Harwat said. “I will also key in on the fitness aspect of the game a bit more to ensure our guys can execute their roles in the last twenty minutes of the match.”
The coaching style will not be the only difference for the gameplay of the Vikings. Team lineups have new faces after losing contributing seniors.
One the greatest losses for the team was losing Sergio Manesio, a two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-League selection. Manesio now plays professionally for the Ottawa Fury.
With losses such as Manesio, the Vikings are left with a young team this year. Underclassmen outnumber upperclassmen—giving the freshmen and sophomores many opportunities to play in games.
Pewu shares the biggest change from last year’s team to this year’s is the lack of Division I soccer experience throughout the squad.
“We lost four seniors, two rising seniors, and two rising juniors. While our freshman are all quickly adjusting to the change in speed and college soccer, it’s still a difference nonetheless,” Pewu said.
Some freshmen have already made their way into the lineup and have contributed in the early parts of the season.
Harwat believes that a couple of new faces will be able to replace the gaps left in the lineup.
“We feel that we have brought in two freshman in Dan Manolache and Thomas M’Barek that have potential to one day get to the same level as Sergio,” Harwat said. “We are excited to see what the future holds for the both of them.”
Harwat looks forward to having a young team in order to foster growth within it. While they may make mistakes, he is hopeful they will learn quickly and the returning players will set the foundation for the team’s culture.
The Vikings will be relying on the senior leadership of captains Hesham Hammouda and Alec Nagucki—a 2016 First Team All-League selection.
Seniors will not be the only leaders on the field.
Harwat expects leadership from attackers such as Junior Noah Pio, Junior Gianluca DiFranco, Sophomore Gabriel Pewu and Sophomore Lawrence Karpeh—a selection to the 2016 All-Freshman Team for the Horizon League.
With the new and returning talent, Harwat says one key to a successful season for the men will be how well they work together.
“Our first message to the team is that we want a group that is 100 percent committed on a daily basis and will make sacrifices to find ways to win matches,” Harwat said. “If we can key in on being engaged every day and compete everyday, we have enough talent to have a winning record.”
As the season progresses, the men hope to make the Horizon League tournament after falling short last year. This season, they are ranked fifth at the start of the fall.
Before the team gets into conference play, they have challenging matchups next. The team will travel to Michigan to play the University of Michigan and Michigan State, who is currently ranked 13th in the country.
Under the leadership of new Head Coach Dallas Boyer, the Cleveland State women’s soccer team improved to 2-3 on the year.
Boyer became the head coach following last season after the team finished the year 5-12 and missed the Horizon League Tournament. Although his role as head coach is new, he has spent the last 10 years as the assistant coach for the Vikings.
His adjustment into the role has gone smoothly for new and returning players. Boyer wants to emphasize rebranding the identity of the team into a stronger defensive squad and a team with increased intensity and work ethic.
Junior Centerback and Team Captain Toni Dickson explained how Boyer’s coaching philosophy has made a major impact on the team as they are in the early stages of the season.
“The transition and attitude towards this change has been incredible — everyone is on board and are all working towards this common goal,” Dickson said.
Changes within the team can already be seen, with important road wins against Akron and Kent State —defending Mid-American Conference (MAC) conference champions. Last year, the Vikings lost to both squads.
Boyer attributes the wins to the team showing poise and control—along with greater intensity—against the Zips and the Golden Flashes.
Additionally, he wants his players to enter non-conference games as they would for a league game.
“It had the feel of a Horizon League conference game with its intensity level and quality of play, so it was a great experience for them to come through that and find a way to win,” Boyer said.
With this mentality toward non-conference games, the Lady Vikings will be aptly prepared for league play later in the season.
The coaching staff is not the only adjustment for the team this year. After the loss of contributing seniors, such as Second Team All-Conference selection Kaila Sargema, the squad has new faces in the freshman and sophomore classes.
A young team has its challenges, but Boyer explains that a young team can have its benefits because the players will get playing time and they will be able to learn how to manage the game at a higher level.
Freshmen have already made an impact to the team. Forward Jenna Prathapa has already tallied three goals on the season. Also, midfielder Grace Grant scored the game-winning goal in double overtime against Akron.
Boyer and the underclassmen will also be leaning on the experience of returning players.
“It’s an interesting mix because while we are young in numbers with so many freshmen and sophomores, we also still have a strong core we built on in our junior and senior classes,” Boyer said.
Senior goalie Jamie Daniels started every game since her sophomore season while midfielder Katie Bainbridge is one of the most versatile players on the field. Bainbridge also ranks fifth in career assists at CSU.
With the experienced upperclassmen and talented freshmen, the Viking look forward to the remainder of the season in hopes to make the Horizon League tournament.
Boyer says the team must continue to improve as the season progresses and as they play their way into the postseason. Most conference games are tight—decided by only a goal or two—so it is imperative to be well prepared.
“If we can really hit our stride a few weeks from now on continuing to improve and commit to our systems of play, see some of the younger players grow into their roles, and get a little bit of health and luck along the way,” Boyer said. “I really like our opportunity to compete our way into the tournament.”