Men’s soccer looks to improve on 2011 success
The men’s soccer team defied the odds to make last year’s Horizon League championship game. But Head Coach Bryan Davis isn’t satisfied with second place.
Wright State (11-7-2) dropped the final to Loyola 1-0 in overtime on Nov. 13. It was the Raiders’ first appearance in a conference championship since 1998 and the program’s first winning season since 2001.
“It was a rewarding year,” Davis said. “Each year you take as a separate entity. Last year we took some great steps toward solidifying the identity of the program,” Davis said.
In his fourth season at the helm, Davis wants more. His group is championship-caliber, but the transition from the bottom of Horizon League to the summit won’t be easy.
“Good teams and great teams have the ability to change in the run of a game and change who they are based on what’s in front of them,” Davis said. “We have a long way to go.”
WSU lost three seniors from last year: defender Kenji Goldman, goalkeeper Corey Whisenhunt and midfielder Brian Cothern. While Goldman and Whisenhunt were reserves, Cothern started and earned a spot on the First Team All-Horizon League.
“Brian was one of the best leaders any of us have ever been around and that’s really going to be missed,” Davis said.
Replacing Cothern’s production won’t be difficult. But it’s the leadership void that concerns Davis.
“On the field, we have soccer players that are as capable as Brian, but it’s really impossible to replace the leader Brian was,” Davis said. “What we are doing is encouraging leadership from other individuals.”
The Raiders are led by midfielder Bryce Rockwell-Ashton (Jr.) who tied for the team lead with five assists and finished second in goals scored (7) on his way to the Horizon League First Team.
Rockwell-Ashton was named to the 2012 preseason All Horizon League team along with defender Gustav Svensson (So.), a member of the 2011 All-Newcomer team.
“Gustav brings toughness and Bryce brings an excitement to the team. But we don’t put much stock in those preseason rankings. The biggest thing for us is focusing on what we need to do as a team. No individual is going to get us to our goals.”
But the rest of those individuals form a talented group.
Midfielder Justin Laird led the team in goals (7) and tied for first with 15 points. Laird, midfielder Seth Petrey (Sr.) and defender Finlay Milne (Sr.) all made the preseason Second Team list for the Horizon League.
Other returning starters include midfielder Emeka Ononye (So.), Derek Zuniga (Jr.) and defenders Austin List (Sr.) and Greg Marchand (Jr.).
Davis’ bench is stocked with key reserves like midfielder Tim Sampson (Sr.) and forwards Drake Stewart (Jr.) and Albert Nilsson (So).
Goalkeeper Craig Feehan (So.) returns after a freshman season where he finished with a 10-7-2 record. Selected as the conference Newcomer of the Year, Feehan recorded four shutouts and allowed only 20 goals during the season.
“We expect big things out of Craig and he showed us that last year,” Davis said. “Having a goalkeeper like Craig in our pocket is fantastic, but nothing is given and you have to continue to push and earn it.”
Though Davis is glad to have 10 starters back, he is still trying to find the best group of players to lead the Raiders to the championship.
“It’s good in that there’s a lot of things in place that we don’t need to necessarily spend a lot of time re-teaching,” Davis said. “But you have to evolve.”
What gives Davis hope is a freshman class that collegesoccernews.com ranked as one of the best in the nation. With forward Brett Elder, midfielder Cheick Diawara, forward Nick Peppe, defender Connor McCafferty, forward Erik Anderson, defender Alex Basiakos, goalkeeper Spencer Semple and midfielder John Sandmann, the Raiders are stocked with talent.
“There’s constant competition for jobs and that’s going to continue. We’re going to bring kids in that want jobs and that’s going to make everybody better,” Davis said.
An early standout is Elder, who was an NSCAA High School All-American and the Ohio Division III Player of the Year at Worthington Christian. Elder also has experience with the Columbus Crew Academy.
“Brett’s going to get a lot of attention because he’s got a great name and pedigree in youth soccer,” Davis said. “But Brett deserves it. He’s not just a name. He’s savvy and very capable.”
Davis also singled out McCafferty, another veteran of the Crew Academy.
“He’s got something,” Davis said. “I think he’s going to bring a lot to the equation as well for this program. Connor’s going to push for a job and I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve seen out of him.”
The rest of the group embodies the philosophies Davis instills: style, class, workmanship and integrity.
“They’re all really good kids, they’re hardworking and you can’t ask for better individuals,” Davis said. “You want to surround yourself with people you believe in, and I do believe in this group.”