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Men’s soccer reloads and prepares to rebound

The Eagles prepare to turn the page on a disappointing 2017 campaign.  |  Thecla Li / THE CHIMES [file]

 

It could have been different.

Maybe if they did not lose 1-0 to Chaminade University at home on Oct. 14, or if they survived just a little longer before falling to eventual conference champion California Baptist University in double overtime on Oct. 23, or did not blow another late lead to Point Loma Nazarene University five days later, then this story would have taken a far different tone. In that case, perhaps, the 2017 men’s soccer team would have finished in the top five of the PacWest in their inaugural NCAA Division II season, clinched a spot in the National Christian College Athletic Association playoffs and bulldozed through a relatively weak NCCAA field en route to a championship in the same way that the Biola’s women’s soccer and volleyball teams did.

Instead, the Eagles finished sixth—one spot shy of postseason eligibility.

ADDED FIRE, INCREASED CONFIDENCE

Still, plenty of positives abound for a team in transition. The Eagles will have to replace six outgoing senior starters in 2018, but those who remain now have a taste of what the PacWest is like—and a belief that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the conference.

“I think we honestly have more confidence going into next season, way more of a drive after the unfortunate losses we had… and how close we were to going to the NCCAA tournament,” said junior defender Parker Setran. “So that kind of burn is gonna hopefully motivate us and give us passion for next season.”

That passion seems to be already playing out in spring practice.

“It’s been really good to see guys stepping up into different roles on the team,” said freshman goalkeeper Alex Muir. “Just continue to grow and continue to push ourselves, definitely continue to be competitive, and show… what we can do in the spring and prove that although the seniors were very impactful, we can still continue to… go off of where we were last year.”

Several veterans are already stepping up to fill the leadership void left by the departures. For instance, sophomore defender Jake Munivez has had to become more vocal in leading the defense on the field. Even though he says the spring has proved a good time for that growth to start, Munivez concedes that the process could stretch into the beginning of the fall season.

“Defensively, as a unit, we’ve been better,” Munivez said. “The first scrimmage [of the spring], I noticed we were kind of all over the place... but I think with continued training, and getting used to each other, and knowing the pieces we have, we started to improve after that.”

NEW LEADERS AT FRONT AND BACK ENDS

The Eagles’ goalkeeper position probably will not be resolved any time soon either. Currently, Muir is the only goalie on the roster, but is expected to face competition for the position come fall. As much as Muir enjoys soaking up all the playing time in practice and spring scrimmages, he eagerly awaits competition for the right to succeed Igor Puglia as starting keeper.

“Just having somebody every day right next to you, pushing you to get better, is something I really look forward to,” Muir said.

Whatever identity the 2018 Eagles eventually take, their tone will be set by co-captains Setran and junior midfielder Kousei Mattox—something Setran realizes fully.

“We all lead in different ways, right?” Setran said. “So it’s really bringing the team together, and how do you do that? How do you create an atmosphere where everybody’s working their hardest, where everyone’s going all out, every practice, challenging each other but also encouraging each other at the same time.”

FINISHING STRONG

So far, next year’s squad is coming together nicely in the eyes of Eagles players. After losses to California State University Los Angeles and Fullerton Junior College earlier in the spring, the Eagles beat Cal State Dominguez Hills, a Division II contender, in their most recent scrimmage.

“After losing to FJC, that’s what motivated us to amp it up a little bit in training,” Munivez said. “The week after [losing], we all got together and worked super hard—high intensity, high training level. And we came back and ended up beating [Dominguez Hills], which was really good… It’s good to end on a high note.”

Ending the spring well is one step forward, but the Eagles have a bigger goal in mind: do what they could not last year and end the fall on a better note—and maybe even a title.

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