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Men’s soccer holds high hopes for NCAA

After a disappointing 2016, the Eagles look to improve their game and make their mark in the PacWest.   |   Chak Hee Lo/THE CHIMES [file]

 

With spring practices wrapping up, the Biola men’s soccer team turns their focus to the fall and their first NCAA Division II season. After a 10-6-1 season and subpar showing in the Golden State Athletic Conference tournament, junior midfielder Jarrett Pugh pulls motivation from the 2016 season.

Developing a team mentality

“If you look at our record, or the team losing in the first round of conference, it is easy to look at the season and say we underperformed, and in a way that is true,” Pugh said. “We had higher expectations going into the season, but if you look at each game, we never doubted our ability to compete.”

The time has come for the team to look forward. Head coach Todd Elkins had to reset the team’s focus this offseason.

“Expectations were pretty high [last season], but we lost a pretty good group of seniors,” Elkins said. “It was one of those ‘what-if’ seasons, but now we have to start to realize that this is a new team, and we’ve been developing that team mentality this spring.”

The Eagles will have to fill the gaps of five graduating seniors with 38 starts between them. Those leaving the team include regular starters forward Leonardo Contreras and midfielder Devin Leon. These vacancies require addressing in the offseason, and Elkins is doing just that.

“There’s a battle — a good battle — to start competing to fill those vacancies this spring,” Elkins said. “I’m not looking for volunteers, I’m looking for players to show me why they should have those spots.”

Nothing is given

After the senior class of 2016 graduates, the Eagles roster will only have one true forward returning and need more. The Eagles do have a big class of returning players including seven juniors who all experienced regular playing time last season. Those key juniors in the defense and midfield, as well as goalkeeper Igor Puglia, look to lead the team to Division II.

“I’m confident in our ability to compete [at Division II] and we’ve showcased that by competing against Division II teams before,” Pugh said. “Nothing is going to be easy. Nothing is going to be given to us.”

Elkins mirrors Pugh’s wariness to the difficulty of Division II, but will not change how he plans to coach.

“I expect us to compete everyday, every game,” Elkins said. “We’re going to go out and give it everything we have whether we’re in NAIA, NCAA, GSAC or now the PacWest.”

Sophomore defender Kousei Mattox has started 37 of 38 games at Biola. He has shone since coming to Biola and will look to lead the team not only on the field, but off it as well.

“On the field is important, but off the field is more important,” Mattox said. “I think supporting each other off the field will help and make us stronger as a unit, as a team and as a family.”

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