Spring Soccer Season Proves Popular

Jeremy Way, Reporter

Spring’s warm weather is welcoming the return of soccer, but it’s growth – not play – that drives players.

Head Coach Chuck Edkins said the challenge is to strategically place players.

“This spring season, we will focus on our system and who fits best in each position,” said Edkins. “The most challenging thing we do as coaches is not putting a training session together, but to place the most appropriate 11 players on the field in the right spots, thus maximizing their abilities.”

The season will consist of 16 play opportunities for the men’s squad, and 15 will be practice while the other will be playing time, said Edkins. The team will take on Wilkes University, University of Scranton and Marywood University.

The women’s squad will see similar action on the field.  Both teams experienced success in the fall as the women’s team made the final four of the NCAA tournament while also claiming the conference crown. The men claimed the conference crown as well, but came up just short in the NCAA tournament.

Mark Stauffer, who is in his thirteenth season as coach, will lead the women this spring.  He was nominated by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America to be named the Division III Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year in 2012.

“We use this season to begin our journey to another conference championship,” said Edkins.

Sophomore Danielle Hesler said one of her goals is to show the coaching staff that she is ready for the challenge.

“Spring season will be a good time to work on the little things in preparation for our season in the fall,” said Hesler. “There are certain skills and a few tactical things that I know I need to work on, and I am hoping that I can accomplish those in the upcoming spring season.”

The season is a time for development, said Edkins, who will focus on retention, and time management, particularly for first year students who can easily become overwhelmed with responsibilities.

First year Palmer Steiner said he is simply working to improve during the off-season.

“What I need to work on is just really speed of game and speed of play because it’s a lot different from high school soccer here,” said Steiner.

The spring season is also an opportunity to cool off, step back and focus on soccer a little less and academics a little more.

“I think the overall purpose of the spring season is to prepare the returning players to help the incoming freshman in the fall,” said Hesler. “A lot of what we do is to make their transition into a collegiate program easier, but it is also a time for the returning players to see what they need to work on before we come back for preseason in August.”

Edkins also said he will use the time to implement new tactics, and he wants to see who works best at each position.

“I think as long as everyone is motivated and as long as everyone works hard in the off-season we will continue our success,” said Hesler.

Edkins also stressed his high expectations of success for his team in the coming years due to the university’s long history of achievement.

The men’s team under Edkins, has made the post-season all but 2 years, won 8 conference championships, and won 4 out of 5 conference championships in the Freedom Conference which MU only joined 5 years ago. Also, they’ve made 5 NCAA tournaments.

“We contend for a conference championship year in and year out by putting ourselves in a position to do so,” said Edkins. “Historically and traditionally, we have done so, and have experienced great success, and this success is a direct result of our players, good people who are good students, and good players.”

This success doesn’t end on the men’s side. In addition to the women’s impressive trip to the final four of the NCAA tournament in 2012, the team has won multiple conference championships.

Every player is trying to become a part of that history.

“This past season I did not get as much playing time as I would have liked.  However, when it came time for me to take a PK in the sweet 16 against Ithaca, that was when I realized that everyone has a role on the team,” said Hesler. “I think my role on the roster, even with playing 2 year, depends on how much I work over the summer and how much I want to improve.”

The successful history is driving Steiner.

“I do believe the soccer team will continue its success. I feel we have a great group of freshman coming up and we’ll hopefully continue the trend in the future,” said Steiner, regarding his aspirations for the team in the coming years.

Edkins said that the first years that came in during the fall season are a great group, but they need to continue to develop in this coming season.

“We want our freshmen to enhance our program; we do not want them to be the go-to players, it would be unfair for us to ask that of them,” said Edkins.

Edkins also said he wants his first years to be successful in all aspects of college, not just soccer. He said they will have their time to shine when many players are lost to graduation in May, and this spring season will introduce them to a higher level of expectation.

Edkins said spring play in past years worked to improve the team for fall competition. In 2008, the team worked hard after a disappointing start and the following fall the Cougars entered a new conference. “The team played incredibly well that fall, winning the regular season conference title, and the conference championship,” said Edkins. “They utilized an adverse experience and turned it into a very positive one.”

Examples like these are what push players and fans to believe that the teams will continue the long history of success.

“I am very impressed with the soccer program, because for it being such a small school, it seems they have everything and they’re doing really well,” said Steiner.

But Edkins’ said that students do well academically. Players have a cumulative 3.0 grade point average over the last 22 years, a GPA high enough to win academic scholarships.

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