After losing in the semifinals on penalty kicks at the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament, Loyola men’s soccer head coach Neil Jones said his team is looking to take the MVC by storm and avenge last season’s disappointing end.
Men’s soccer finished the year with a 10-4-5 overall record and 2-2-2 in the MVC, becoming the program’s winningest team since 2008. Jones said he wants to build on last season’s success.
But Jones will have to do that without nine players from last year’s team, four of whom graduated. The biggest loss comes in the back, where Loyola had to bid goodbye to midfielder and defenseman Eric Schoendorf, who was the first player in MVC history to be named both the Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Loyola also lost two-time MVC Goalkeeper of the Year Tim Dobrowolski.
Although the team lost a majority of its talent, Jones’ first-year class brings fresh faces to the program, including first-year defenseman Marius Kullmann, midfielder Aiden Megally and forward Chase Wright.
Kullmann, a Fulda, Germany, native, played on Eintracht Frankfurt, a German soccer club, along with sophomore star Fabian Lifka. Kullman already had a taste of success at Loyola when he scored the game-winning goal against Valparaiso University with 18 seconds left in overtime on Aug. 27.
Megally and Wright also strengthen Loyola’s offense. Megally played exclusively at the club level for Shockers FC in Chicago, while Wright played for his high school in Lakeville, Minnesota, and scored 17 of his team’s 25 goals during the 2015 season.
With the new talent, Jones said he doesn’t believe the loss of last year’s seniors will affect the team in reaching its goals.
The Ramblers kicked off the 2016 season with an upset 2-0 exhibition win against No. 15 Indiana University. Loyola now boasts a 3-0 overall record.
Despite the fast start, Jones put the brakes on the hype and said the team must remain focused on each individual game.
“The entire team is grounded,” said Jones. “They know our strengths and what we have to do to be a good team.”
Jones said a strong defense that locks down opposing offenses is the major key to the Ramblers’ success this season. The team prided itself in past seasons on keeping goals out of the net, as it posted an average of .39 goals against per game — the second lowest goals against average of any NCAA Division I team last season. That defense was a major building block to the team’s 2015 success and Jones said he is expecting his team to continue this trend during this season with redshirt junior Andrew Checkadanov in the net.
Alongside this nationally ranked defense is an up-and-coming attack looking to improve upon last season’s low scoring numbers. The Ramblers only recorded 19 goals in 19 games and were shut out six times. Lifka, who led the team with three goals and two assists last season, said the attack is something the team is working to develop this season.
Alongside Lifka are junior midfielder Kyle Thomson and junior forward Elliot Collier, the latter of whom received MVC Preseason All-league honors. Other standouts include transfer Grant Stoneman from the University of Wisconsin in midfield, and co-captain Ryan Howe, who is a fifth-year senior. This fusion of young talent with leadership from the team’s veterans has the Ramblers poised to fight their way back to the MVC tournament and compete for the conference title.
Although a recent coaches poll has Loyola pegged to finish third for the second consecutive season, Jones said he believes his team can accomplish its goal of an NCAA berth.
The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Utah Valley University and Binghamton University in the Northern Illinois Invitation in Dekalb, Illinois, on Sept. 9.