Men’s soccer kicks season into full gear

Cole Anderson

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After starting their season with two losses in three games on a preseason trip to Virginia, the Whitman men’s soccer team rallied to win their final game of the trip. Now with five games down, they are riding a three-game winning streak into conference play. The Missionaries will open their conference season this weekend, welcoming Willamette University and Linfield College on Saturday, Sept. 20  and Sunday, Sept. 21 respectively.

To kick off their season, the team traveled to Virginia to play three non-conference games against teams they had not previously played.

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Photo by Marra Clay

“The Virginia trip was good. We got three good games against different opposition. The first game we probably should’ve won but were getting used to the heat and humidity and had a good goal taken back after the fact. The second, against Christopher Newport, was the best team we’ll probably see all year,” said Head Men’s Soccer Coach Mike Washington.

“The third game we came back and played what I thought was the best we had played on the trip, and just really outplayed [Randolph-Macon College],” said Washington.

The trip also served as an opportunity for the team to bond and get their first taste of real game scenarios.

“I felt like we learned a lot and developed our team identity in terms of how we’re going to play this year, which will be fast tempo, high pressure on defense and fast attacking possession. I think we’re really talented this year, and I think a lot of the younger guys are going to step up,” said senior captain Riley Paul.

Upon returning to Whitman, the men had their first home game against Corban University. On a night that got very physical, Whitman ultimately earned a big 2-1 win.

In their most recent game, Whitman rolled to a 6-0 victory over Walla Walla University in front of a huge crowd of students and parents.

But the success on the field hasn’t been something that happened overnight. After losing six key seniors, this year’s captains, seniors Stuart Ellsworth, Riley Paul and Logan Grime, had their work cut out for them, running practices with the notion that they would be helping to develop replacements for those graduated players.

“I’m really impressed with the sophomore class. Drew [Edmonds] and Tray [Foy] have really stepped in in the back four and done really well. And Paal [Nilssen] has been doing well in the midfield. The whole class has been doing well. Their confidence is up and it’s exciting to see them play because they’re excited to play,” said Ellsworth.

Paul spoke to some of the difficulties this year’s team faces.

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Jacob Fritz (2018) guards Riley Paul (2015) and Noah Cavanaugh (2018). Photo by Marra Clay

“I think that what we’re lacking this year is experience since we lost so many good seniors. Hopefully preseason has given us that little bit of extra experience and I think it has. We’re settling down more and figuring out everyone’s role on the team,” said Paul.

Some of the seniors last year, most notably Cooper Schumacher and Jack Morgan, had been starting since before anyone on this year’s team, except for this year’s seniors, had ever seen any playing time at all. This basically meant that those slated to fill those vacant spots had gained little to no experience in those positions.

Defenders are rarely subbed out as it is, and Morgan and Schumacher were the center backs for the team, two positions that get subbed very infrequently.

“I think there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve [for the sophomores] because we haven’t played with them as long and they don’t know the system as well as some of the older guys yet. But like I said, they’re learning really fast and definitely gaining a lot of confidence from this preseason,” said Paul.

Grime was one of the seniors who really stepped into a leadership role in the defense and has been instrumental in reestablishing a strong back four.

The goals for the season haven’t changed and winning conference is still a top priority, but this year that goal has certainly resonated with the team as a whole.

“I think the belief is a lot higher this season, and the confidence and the excitement too. The swagger is coming. People are just fired up to improve every day and get out there and play good teams and show what they can do. We have a lot of talent. We’ve got a lot of depth but also a ton of talent as well,” said Ellsworth.

Coach Washington, someone who has established himself as a coach who is eager to give his team control and authority with regard to the way they play, comes back this season with the same goals in mind.

“I think we really control our own destiny. We returned enough players to be savvy, and what has really been the goal every year is it’s not what I want, it’s what they want, so they are in control of what happens,” said Washington.+

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Photo by Marra Clay

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