SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- After a season of winning the 2018 WHAC Tournament Championship and receiving a berth to the NAIA National Championship Tournament, the Lawrence Technological University (Mich.) men's soccer team enters the 2019 season with high expectations. These expectations are not just coming from inside the locker room, the Blue Devils enter the season picked to finish second in the WHAC and received votes to be ranked in the top 25 in the NAIA Coaches' Preseason Poll. When asked about the expectations and the pressure placed upon his team, Head Coach Will Dyer thinks back to a quote shared to him by his mentor from Billie Jean King "Pressure is a privilege." Dyer also said, "...we need to embrace it and use it as a positive.... This will keep us honest with each other and be aware that we will need to work hard every day."
The Lawrence Tech Blue Devils will open up play on Saturday, September 24th visiting the RedHawks of Martin Methodist. In regards to the game one opponent, Dyer says, "Martin Methodist is a very good program, we know it's going to be a battle. We will concentrate on ourselves and our style of play, make adjustments as needed." The RedHawks finished the 2018 season with a record of 10-8. Returning for the RedHawks are three key players: Jonas Arcalean, who finished the season with a team best 12 goals, Miguel Tizapa recorded 11 assists and six goals, and Alex Kleczkowski, who found the back of the net eight times and provided seven assists. Dyer commented "The Blue Devils will enter the game a little thin in depth, but will look to the upperclassmen to step up, ...we've talked a lot over the year of next man up. We have some great upperclassmen and seniors that will set the tone and demand more from each other."
After their season opener, the Blue Devils enter a seven game stretch where they will face off against four teams who rank inside the top 10 of the NAIA Coaches' Preseason Poll: No. 5 Rio Grande (Ohio), No. 7 Cardinal Stritch (Wis.), No. 10 Spring Arbor (Mich.) in the home opener, and wrap up this stretch with the conference opener at No. 4 Madonna University (Mich.).
The Blue Devils lost a key player in Chris Serwatka to graduation, who lead the team in points (20) and shots (46). However, the team does have key returners in; Kevin Wright, who tied for the team lead in goals scored (eight) and third in points (17). Michael Avila is also back, as a captain this year, who was fourth on the team in goals scored (five). Also returning is goalkeeper Max Jewett. Jewett, who started in 20 games, had a save percentage of .675, and 54 saves. When asked about where he expects to get production this year Dyer states, "Nico (Rodriguez-Bermejo) is coming into his last year, expecting him to become our all time leading goal scorer. Very deep CM rotation of players and a back 4... Max will be a senior as well, looking for him to leave his legacy as one of the best GK's we've ever had here!" Dyer also wants his new players to "find their way and trust our bench as they are just as hungry and want to play."
It is a positive atmosphere surrounding the LTU men's soccer team, and this team has the belief that they will accomplish great things this season. Captains Michael Avila, Juan Jaramillo, and Bryce Nicholson are excited about this team and the opportunity to lead them. Avila, when asked about the excitement for the season, he responded with, "After winning the playoffs last year and making it to the first round of the national tournament, the team has been very optimistic and driven to continue to improve and make LTU history. When we all came in for preseason, you could tell that the energy of the team was different. Players were more excited and motivated."
These captains are aware of the hype and expectations surrounding the program, but understand they need to focus on themselves. Jaramillo highlights "Regardless of these grand expectations, our coaches have advised us to take in the season one training session and one game at a time. We realize that we must give 100% to every step and detail of our growth as a team in order to give us the best chance to meet, or hopefully surpass, these expectations." By focusing on themselves and getting better each and every day, this team has set goals for this season, and truly expect to achieve these goals. Nicholson, when asked what the team goals for the season expressed, "Our biggest goal is to reach the NAIA National Tournament...win our first regular season title as well as win the tournament again. We also have a lot of seniors on the team this year and we would like nothing more than to go out with a spectacular winning season."
This is a group of young men who are determined to not allow the hype, to just be hype. They are entering this season with confidence that they are a top team in, not only the WHAC, but the NAIA as well.