By Kevin Saxe
As the final whistle of the season blew on Nov. 10, 2018 it signaled the end to one of the most successful classes in the history of the Springfield College men’s soccer team. For the class that included: Brad Deckel, Ian Zacharewicz, Xavi Arroyo, Keon Haji, Christian Schneider, and Stewart Frank, they wrapped up careers that included an ECAC Championship and three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. With the departure of this mightily successful class as well as transfers and injuries to a couple of returners the Pride are now one of the youngest teams in all of NCAA soccer across all divisions.
That is the number of freshmen on the Springfield College men’s soccer team. The first years nearly double the number of returning players and make up approximately two thirds of the roster. Between graduation, transfers, and injuries the Pride are in a unique position. With a team so young, second year head coach Tommy Crabill detailed the challenges of coaching such a young team.
“The biggest challenge for me as a young coach is trying to stick with things that are most important to our culture and teaching those things first and not getting lost into other details of playing the game that matter. We really want to solidify what it’s like to be a Springfield soccer player on and off the field.”
Having a young team on all fronts the Pride find themselves inserting multiple freshmen into their starting lineup from the get-go. One of the most interesting situations is the goalie position. There are five of them. Not only are there five but all five are freshmen. Crabill knows it’s a unique position to be in so he’s had a unique way to
handle it thus far.
“It’s such a unique situation that we told them we want to treat it in a unique way. We are one of the very few teams in the country that rotates goalkeepers at halftime,” Crabill said. “Very few teams, and very few coaches would choose to do that but we believe we see a handful of them ready to contribute.”
With so many goalies competing for playing time it could create some animosity towards each other, with all of them being within the same class, however sophomore defender and captain Jack Costa detailed the way they push each other to be better:
“There’s no bad blood between them, they understand their roles, where some guys might play one day but not the next day. They all push themselves, they have good practices, and they have good relationships between them and it makes them compete and makes them better.”
Players to Watch
Because there are so few returners, they find themselves taking on an increased leadership role. Costa understands the importance of all of the returners not just limited to captains senior Keith Dixon and junior Garrett Ossolinski as well as Costa and their role in helping the freshman class.
“All of the returners, we understand the situation that we’re in right now where there is so many young guys, even if you’re not a captain you still have to act and be a leader and lead by example. Every guy has stepped up and assumed a leadership role even if they’re not wearing an armband during the game,” Costa said.
With a freshman class so big it is easy to point out the new starters as players to watch. However, Crabill detailed how for the Pride there is more than just those playing substantial minutes to keep an eye on.
“Those guys will have to ride the rollercoaster that freshmen provide to us because consistency is really challenging to first year players,” Crabill said. “I think there is a solid ten to twelve of them that will contribute and there’s two injured that would be contributing. The ones who have been starting are the obvious ones but there’s probably five or six other guys who are ready.”
For the Pride, expect returners like Costa, Ossolinski, and especially Dixon who is the lone senior to play integral roles on and off the field for the Pride. With so few returners, expect the returning group to play a larger role including players with very limited to no experience. A few players who have already stepped into much larger roles are sophomore Timothy Brereton (zero games in one year), junior Mateusz Dziemian (eleven games in two years), and Ian Macala (one game in his one year).
For the Pride there is no pulling punches, they are a young team with a ton of potential. Despite a slow start to the season after losing their first two games the Pride have started playing better for longer stretches in games. One thing Crabill knows is that with a young team inconsistency can be expected, how they bounce back will determine how they are able to sustain consistency.
“With a young team it’s how to not compound mistakes,” Crabill said. “We’re going to make mistakes but we don’t get on guys for making mistakes it’s an expectation. Learning how to get up and play to the next moment is probably the biggest thing.”
This is a team that has made the NCAA tournament each of the past three years, but with a different and much younger nucleus the Pride know they can only focus on what lays in front of them according to Costa.
“Anything is possible as long as it’s in front of us. We can’t think about the stuff that has already happened. Whatever’s already happened, we have to put behind us. Anything we want to accomplish is still in front of us. Every new season, every new game, you have to walk in thinking we can do anything we want to do.”
Despite a rough start, also aided by some tough opponents, the Pride will look to their leaders to guide the team through the trials and tribulations a young team brings. It’s hard to count out a team with the track record that Springfield has had recently. But this will be the biggest test yet specifically for Coach Crabill.
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the country, this is a team with a ton of potential and a lot of talent. If they find the consistency that is often tough for young players, this is a team that has a legitimate chance at making a run at their third NEWMAC title in four years.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros