The Gustavus men’s soccer team is off to a promising start with a record of 5-2-1 overall. Led by Senior Captains Sean Sendelbach, Zach Schmith, and Casey Gilbert, the squad has lost just two of its first eight games and is 2-0 in conference play.
The team’s strong start comes as no surprise after winning the 2012 MIAC championship in a riveting shootout over conference rival, Carleton College, in Northfield. They recorded just one conference loss throughout the entire season. The hearts of many players and fans were broken with a season-ending loss to UW-Platteville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Still, hopes are high for the young Gustavus team this season after having graduated six seniors.
Among the returning players are Junior Forward and leading point scorer Zach Brown, who has 3 goals and 7 points, and Goaltender Brett Ylonen, who has allowed only five goals in his first eight starts.
As the midway point of the season approaches, the Gusties seem to have found their groove.
“We started off a little bit slower than we probably wanted to, but the last few games we’ve been doing pretty well. We’re kind of catching stride, and the season is coming together, which is nice,” Sendelbach said.
Sendelbach also weighed in on the team’s chemistry and the combination of some of the more seasoned players among a large number of underclassmen.
“We’ve got a good mix of all four classes. The younger guys on the team add a new flare to our style, something we can add to our game. It’s a good balance, and I think that’s one of the things that’s helping us have some success this year,” Sendelbach said.
Another weapon the Gustie soccer team possesses is the elite soccer mind of head coach Michael Middleton. A United Kingdom native, Middleton is fully licensed by the English Football association and holds a UEFA Advance license.
“Having trained with Premier League [United Kingdom] teams when he was younger, he has much more experience playing at a high level than most coaches. He gained a lot of soccer knowledge from those times, and he shares it with the team,” Sophomore Midfielder Stephan Quie said. “He has a lot of experience as a coach and expects a lot from his players.”
Middleton’s record is 44-11-10 (19-6-6 in conference play) in three and a half seasons with the Gustavus men’s soccer team.
The reigning MIAC champions have nine games remaining in the regular season, all of which are against other teams in the conference. These nine games will be important in securing a high seed in the playoffs and the team is excited about the rivalry matchups.
“I’d have to say I’m most excited to play St. Olaf. I think they’ve got a pretty good team this year, and we’ve always had a rivalry with them. St. Thomas will be a big one too,” Junior Midfielder Nate Kurtzweig said.
According to several players, the team’s keys to success are relatively simple: stay healthy, and follow the game plan. Few, if any, teams in the conference match the Gusties’ strength and depth at each roster position.
“We’ve got to stay healthy. We’ve got a lot of talent on the team this year, and we’ll be hard to beat if we can do that. We have a lot of depth, so we have an advantage over most teams there,” Kurtzweig said.
While the team is projected to finish the season strong, Sendelbach says there are still things that they could work on.
“I know it’s cliché to say, but there’s always a way to improve in every aspect of the game. I think we need to keep sticking to our game plan and keep playing fundamentally sound soccer. If we can keep doing that, we can keep getting better and we’ll finish strong. We just have to stick to our style,” Sendelbach said.
The Gusties play at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Saint John’s University. The Johnnies hold a record of 3-4-1 and are 1-1 in conference play.
The teams last met in September of last season, when Gustavus’ forward Zach Brown scored the game-winning goal in overtime for the second straight year. Gustavus leads the all-time series between the schools 25-20-13 and will look for their third straight win as they head to Collegeville.