2018 PREVIEW: Men’s Soccer looks to build on last year’s championship experience
WINONA LAKE, Ind. – The 2018 Grace College men’s soccer team is poised to continue its assault on the Crossroads League this year.
Only two players graduated from the 2017 squad that won the Crossroads League Tournament and reached the NAIA National Championships for the first time in 35 years.
Head coach Matt Hotchkin has added to that championship-caliber roster for 2018, bringing in quality players at every position to challenge for starting spots.
Hotchkin was quick to maintain that last year’s success is no guarantee for future results. In fact, it can at times be much harder.
“The guys are excited coming off that experience last year, but we also feel like we underperformed at the national level. It left us thinking that we sold ourselves short when we could have gotten more out of it,” Hotchkin said. “We want to build on that and have a good year.”
The Lancers dropped a narrow 2-1 game in the first game of NAIA Nationals in 2017, and then missed out on advancing to the semifinals of NCCAA Nationals by one more goal.
Grace’s returners are eager for another try this fall. The Lancers are one of the few teams nationally who return 100 percent of their goalscorers, led by eight goals by Damon Binkley and seven from Breno Oliveira and Ulisses Miranda.
Cody Boerema (five goals, four assists), Nikola Djordjevic (five goals) and Marcelo Talamas (four goals, two assists) give Grace a dangerous, multi-headed attack.
In the midfield Colin Cape and Togo Narusawa are elite passers, controlling pace of play and providing defensive cover.
Defensively, Zeb Johansson, Gabriel Osti, Joshua Coupar, Brayton Taylor and Josiah Osborn were mainstays on Grace’s backline.
Kurt Hamlin handled every minute of goalkeeping last year, recording seven shutouts in the process. He will be joined this year by Drew Seyden and Colton Wottring, who both show promise as freshmen.
Hotchkin pointed to Osborn and Hamlin as leaders on Grace’s team. The pair have experienced the highs (Crossroads League championship) and lows (ninth-place finish) of a soccer season and have wisdom to share from those experiences.
“We have a really good culture right now of the older guys leading and serving the younger guys, and that tone is set with Josiah and Kurt,” Hotchkin said.
Despite a remarkably experienced team, Hotchkin noted several newcomers who have potential to play regular minutes right away.
Ivan Santagiuliana from Italy and Romain Chantrel from France are impressive defensive transfers. Both players add experience and maturity to the backline. Kyle Smith has also made a mark in preseason as a strong, speedy defender.
Tyler Brueckman and Korry Hamlin were teammates from Bethel High School in Ohio, and both players have a chance to play in the midfield because of their work ethic.
“On paper we are better and more talented than last year. But right now it’s all on paper. We haven’t been through any diversity,” Hotchkin said. “I’m pleased with the guys’ work rate and attitudes. They are hungry at every practice.”
It is impossible to watch the Lancers and not recognize the international flair on the pitch. Grace’s roster is represented by 12 countries across the globe, ranging from Japan, Zambia, Sweden and Colombia among others.
Hotchkin was excited about the challenge of guys from different parts of the world working together to become a unified group. “Every guy has a unique style and personality. Out of all this diversity, it brings something special to our team.”
To make a return trip to nationals, Grace will need to refocus on the challenge of constant improvement, according to Hotchkin. He said that this team has a desire to win a championship, “but that’s not something we’ll spend time talking about. We want to focus on what we are doing each day to prepare.”
Grace excelled in late-game situations last year, earning the moniker “Cardiac Kids.” The Lancers won four games in overtime along with a few other late-game winners, which Hotchkin credited to the squad’s belief.
“Soccer gives you 90 minutes of ups and downs. You want more ups, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. But you can’t ever stop believing,” Hotchkin said. “We want to have that kind of belief as a team that we can get the job done.”
The Lancers’ season officially kicks off on Tuesday with a home match against Rochester at 7 p.m.