By Sophie Kelner
The Cleveland State University men’s soccer team concluded its first season under head coach Kirk Harwat after dropping its Horizon League semifinal game against The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Flames on Nov. 9 in Chicago.
Unable to even the score, the Vikings lost 3-1 to the eventual conference champions after falling behind 2-0 in the first half. The Vikings cut into the lead during the second half, but the effort proved to be not enough.
In the quarterfinal round of the League Championship, the Vikings drew the Wright State Raiders. The squad traveled to Fairborn, Ohio for the first-round matchup.
The team’s dominating performance led to a 4-0 victory—with four goals coming from four different scorers. Goals came from sophomores Vlad Jandric and Lawrence Karpeh and juniors Jordan Ianiro and Noah Pio.
The loss against the Flames wraps up Kirk Harwat’s first year as the head coach of the Vikings. Harwat spent the previous five seasons as the assistant coach for Cleveland State.
His Vikings team posted a 7-10-2 record on the season.
Harwat believes his first year was successful for reforming culture and elevating the level of play.
“I really enjoyed my first year being in charge. I feel we made progress as a team both from a soccer and culture standpoint,” Harwat said. “The team understood our expectations and did a great job at putting the work in to excel on the field.”
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After getting some early victories in the 2017 campaign, Harwat was able to shape a more cohesive group as the season continued.
“We became a more complete team as the season went on. The guys became more comfortable with each other and the understanding of their tendencies really started to show the last few weeks of the season,” Harwat said.
The men worked with each other under the new regime and bounced back from missing the Horizon League tournament in 2016.
Last year, the Vikings needed to win their final regular season match against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Panthers to clinch a berth to the post-season playoffs. The squad gave up the lone goal of the game in the final minutes to miss the tournament.
That was not the case this season.
Harwat credits the team reclaiming its spot in the conference tournament to the hard work of his players and staff.
“We were able to get back into the Horizon League tournament because my staff and our team were committed to putting in the work necessary to achieve that goal,” Harwat said. “It is never easy in this league and we put ourselves in a good position by approaching every match with a winning mentality and executing our game plan.”
Reaching the semi-finals of the 2017 tournament marked the fourth time in the last six seasons that the Vikings have made it that far in the tournament. The team played in the tournament in eight of the last nine seasons.
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In addition to the team’s success, individual players also had successful seasons as the Vikings placed four men on conference honor teams.
Second Team All-League honorees included sophomore midfielder Vlad Jandric, junior midfielder Noah Pio and senior midfielder Alec Nagucki for his second straight season.
Harwat explained each of the Second Team honorees played their role in the success of the team.
“Vlad and Noah did a great job at finding ways to score goals and tied for the team lead in that category. Alec is a very technical player that controls the center midfield for us and did a great job for us in possession,” Harwat said.
Freshmen defender Thomas M’Barek earned a spot on the Horizon League All-Freshmen Team.
Harwat recognizes M’Barek as an effective defender as he makes smart decisions during games.
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Moving forward, the Vikings graduate three seniors—Nagucki, Kareem Banton and Hesham Hammouda. The seniors all contributed heavily in their four years.
Coach Harwat’s squad will miss the seniors, but he has confidence in his returning players and the incoming members of the team.
“Losing Alec, Hesham, and Kareem will definitely hurt as they are all very talented players,” Harwat said. “However, I feel we have a very good returning team and incoming players that can do a great job at filling their roles.”
As the team’s season concluded almost a month ago, the Vikings are using the offseason as a time to rest, analyze and prepare for the spring.
Harwat already has big plans for his team when they return from the winter recess.
“This off-season, we will continue to key in on our style of play while in possession. We will also key in on every detail of the game on a daily basis to create very good habits,” Harwat said. “I am excited to get back to work with this group in January.”