Men's Soccer Looks To Continue Upward Trend Of Success In 2013
Aug. 12, 2013
MILWAUKEE - Kris Kelderman was able to achieve numerous accomplishments during his first season as head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men's soccer team in 2012.
For starters, the team finished the regular season with a winning record for the first time since 2005. The Panthers went a near-perfect 6-1-0 at home in 2012, their best record at Engelmann Stadium in seven seasons. The list goes on, as the team had three players earn all-conference honors - the most since 2006. It also had more than one player on the league all-newcomer team for the first time since 2008 and had a player record 20-or-more points for the first time in eight seasons.
Not bad for a coach that was hired less than two months before the first exhibition game of the season.
"It was tough being named the new coach so close to the start of the regular season," Kelderman said. "You know, you walk into the first practice and `here is your team'. There was a lot of newness and there was an adjustment, not only for the coaches, but for the players too. It was a tough challenge. Any time there is change, there is uncertainty and I think the guys responded very well."
Overall, the team led the Horizon League in shots and, by finding the back of the net 23 times, scored more goals in 2012 than in all but one of the past seven seasons. In addition, Milwaukee found itself back in the regional poll for the first time in eight years, logging a three-week span in the NSCAA Great Lakes regional rankings.
"We brought in a new system and different expectations ... just a different way of doing things," Kelderman said. "The regular season is short and guys had to adapt quickly. I was really proud of how they handled everything and the number one goal that we had was just to get better. And that is our goal moving forward - let's get better than we were last season. The guys really worked hard at it and accepted everything we brought them. They are really working hard for this season. It's a hard-working group and we have a large number of newcomers that we feel can step in and make an immediate impact. It's an exciting time for the program."
The team Kelderman took the field with a season ago was young. In fact, sophomores (46 starts) and freshmen (57 starts) made up the large majority of the squad; with a trio of freshmen making at least 15 starts each. The final record ended up at 8-8-2 overall, but the team competed for a victory in nearly every game. Of the eight losses, six were one-goal defeats. And the other two were hard-fought losses to a pair of ranked teams, falling 3-1 to #25 Xavier and 2-0 to #18 Northwestern, both in road contests.
"College soccer has progressed a long way," Kelderman said. "The talent is so much more dispersed than it was years ago, so every game - no matter who you play - is going to be a dogfight, is going to be difficult. So you see less and less of those games that are a three or four-goal spread. That's just the way it is. We tried to instill a more attacking-minded side. Guys enjoy playing that way and it's an attractive style to watch. We led the Horizon League in shots, but did not lead in goals last year. That is something that we want to improve in our performance on the field this season. We need to be more efficient in our finishing on goal. That is something we focused on last season, the off-season and moving into this year."
Last season started out with a memorable game, falling in a heartbreaker with a goal at the 89:59 mark on the road. The team entered the campaign holding all three traveling trophies it plays for and remained in possession of two of them, defeating Northern Illinois for the LeWang Trophy and coming back to tie Green Bay to keep the Chancellor's Cup. The Panthers ended a couple of long streaks as well - defeating UIC for the first time since 2002 and Wisconsin for the first time since 2005. Things stayed exciting all season - especially at home - where the Panthers posted their best winning percentage since going 10-1 in 2004. They started the season with a victory over Northern Kentucky and then won the Panther Invitational - including a victory over IUPUI that also came at the 89:59 mark of the contest.
"You always want to emphasize that you make your home your fortress," Kelderman said. "I think, whether it's right or wrong, guys take a little more pride in their performance at home. Our attendance is great and we use them as our 12th man that everyone is looking for. The guys really enjoy playing on our field in that atmosphere. It's a great surface and the guys get excited to play there. Now we just have to maintain that momentum at home and carry that over to the road games."
The Panthers rounded out the season with Laurie Bell earning First-Team All-Horizon League honors and James Ashcroft and Declan Rodriguez earning second-team accolades. Rodriguez and Aaron Horvat each earned a spot on the all-newcomer team as well.
Bell emerged as one of the top players in the league, leading the team with 21 points, eight goals and five assists. He became the first UWM sophomore to earn first-team all-league honors since 2005, finishing second in the league in points, third in goals and tied for the league lead in assists.
"Laurie had a great season - on the field, off the field and in the classroom," Kelderman said. "And that is why he is one of our captains this year. He is a leader and sets the tone for the guys, not only with his success scoring goals, but the way he carries himself on the field. He is a hard worker and keeps himself in great shape. The guy does whatever it takes to win. He can be quiet all game but will be the one to step up and score at the end when the team needs it."
Graduation did not take a huge toll, numbers-wise, on UWM from last season, but the three players that they did lose were important pieces. Cody Banks and goalkeeper John Shakon were four-year starters, while Jamie Bladen was a two-year starter after transferring into the program. But a big piece to the puzzle for Kelderman in 2013 will be the new faces, as the staff welcomes 12 newcomers to the roster.
"It was only three guys, but it was three quality guys both on the field and in the locker room," Kelderman said. "John was a captain for a few years. When Jamie was healthy, he was a regular putting in quality minutes. Cody was a fixture up front and a dangerous part of the offense. No disrespect to those guys, but we feel really good about the new guys coming in. It's an opportunity for the guys that were here and are a year older and have one more year experience under their belts."
Leaning so heavily on newcomers can be a tough proposition for a second-year coach, but Kelderman is prepared for the large group. Being able to count on the experience gained by so many younger players in 2012 is also a big part of the mix.
"One of our top priorities was building depth on the team and we feel we did that," Kelderman said. "Roles, positions, starters ... it's all wide open. We feel we are that deep and it's going to be very competitive. But that is what makes a team better. The day-to-day training the guys have to endure, the competition for minutes, the fighting for roles - that is what a coaching staff wants and strives for in the process. From our roster top-to-bottom, it's hard to say what expectations are because anyone could be on the field on any given day. It just comes down to who is outperforming the next guy."
The Panthers do return Bell and five of their top seven scorers overall from a season ago. Horvat tallied seven points on two goals and three assists, while Rodriguez, Zach Stevenson and Dorian O'Lochlayne round out that list. Senior Robbie Boyd, a team captain and three-year starter, looks to go out with a standout final campaign with the Panthers, as well as fellow four-year players Kevin Ferron and Riley Weiner.
Patrick Ruhland played in all 18 games as a freshman a year ago, making 15 starts. Also returning with plenty of experience under his belt will be Richard Johnson, who started all 14 games he appeared in last season while battling through some injuries.
"We have some guys that played up front last season and some newcomers," Kelderman said. "We have some high expectations for some of the new guys, so we will see where they fit in and how they do. In the back, we feel like we have numerous upperclassmen, which would be ideal. You want guys that are tough and have some experience back there, because they are your last line. It's a pretty well-balanced group."
Helping the cause will be three transfers who sat out last season that are now all eligible: Luke Goodnetter, Aaron Cranfill and Andrew Stone all have experience at the NCAA Division I level and will be asked to step up to play important roles in 2013. "You can be excited about the recruiting class you bring in, but let's be honest - some are young," Kelderman said. "Are they going to be able to handle the transition to college soccer immediately? It's so hard to predict. Some guys step in after a year or two and perform well."
One of the biggest question marks will be in goal, where Shakon was the four-year starter. Kelderman will have four goalkeepers on the roster when the season starts in redshirt freshman Jonathan Stahr, junior college transfer Agustin Rey, freshman Liam Anderson and Ryan Onwukwe, a transfer from IUPUI.
After a step in the right direction in 2012, the program is ready to continue the trek in 2013.
"The conference will be tough," Kelderman said. "Do I expect us to be better than we were last season? Absolutely. And I am fine with saying that - that is the pressure that we put on ourselves. How much more? That is the unknown. We plan to be better than we were last year and we want to see how far we can carry that."
The season gets underway with three exhibition games, starting at SIU Edwardsville August 16. A pair of home exhibitions will take place against Lewis August 21 and Parkside August 25, with the regular-season opener scheduled at Engelmann Stadium against Marquette for the Milwaukee Cup August 30.