Men's Soccer

Ramblers Sweep MVC Defensive Honors in September

Steve Woltmann | Loyola AthleticsIn head coach Neil Jones’ first season with the Ramblers in 2013, his team finished 6-11-2. Now four years later, Jones has made Loyola a nationally prominent program.

For the entirety of September, a player from the No. 14 Loyola men’s soccer team (8-1-0, 3-0-0) earned the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) player of the week.

This puts Loyola on par with Creighton University, which achieved the same feat in 2008, according to the MVC. Loyola and Creighton are the only two schools in MVC history to receive the player-of-the-week title for four consecutive weeks, and Loyola is the only school in MVC history to have done it two years in a row. Loyola earned the award five consecutive weeks last year, from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2.

With sophomore defender Grant Stoneman earning the accolade from Sept. 6-19 and junior goalkeeper Andrew Chekadanov earning it on Sept. 26, Loyola has shown its prowess for the defensive aspect of the game. Chekadanov said the individual honors come as a result of solid play from the whole team.

“It’s all about team defending and our leaders helping our outside backs,” said Chekadanov. “It’s cool to have defensive player of the week with Grant [Stoneman] three weeks in a row and then me last week.”

Coupled with a top ranking in several conference defensive categories, the team is showing that the defense strategy of head coach Neil Jones is working. The Ramblers sit at the top of the MVC standings, and Loyola is the only team in the conference that earned a spot in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA) top 25.

Among the MVC, Loyola leads in shutouts (7), goals per game (2), total goals (18), assists per game (2.11) and goals allowed (6). The team is 7th in saves (12), which is a result of allowing only a few shots to even reach the goalkeeper.

The Ramblers’ ability to track opposing offenses and communicate as they move the ball is a product of Jones’s system. His coaching is what has made the team so good on defense, even though the majority of the backline players are new to the starting job, according to Stoneman. Jones said Chekadanov and Stoneman are able to communicate and move the players around, which has allowed them to be great impact defenders.

Chekadanov’s six shutouts have him to leading the conference in both shutouts and goals per game (.67). He currently has a save percentage of .667 and averages 1.33 saves per game.

Stoneman, who now leads the MVC in game-winning goals, allows the team to move fluidly from defense to offense by guiding the Ramblers into the right sets. His strategy helps the team prevent down field penetration and counterattacks from opponents. Stoneman said a strong defense has helped him and his teammates accumulate defensive player of the week accolades.

“It helps having the [opposing] team in front of you play where you want defensively,” Stoneman said.

While recognizing the positive impact of this feat, Jones said his team isn’t defined by it. He said the team remain focused on maintaining its momentum.

“It is excellent to get recognition for the guys working hard, but we’ll focus on the next game, which is the most important,” Jones said.

The Ramblers’ goals have not changed with this year’s success, Stoneman said, and the team will make defense its first priority on the field. The Ramblers will next face Drake University (3-7-0) on Oct. 8 at Hoyne Field, where Loyola has not lost in 23 straight games.

“We’re going to try and keep the streak going and try to keep a Loyola player as the Defensive Player of the Week,” Stoneman said.

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