As the sun set on the horizon during a blistering September evening, the Macalester men’s soccer team wrapped up a 4-0 rout of Northwestern College for its first win of the year. This was certainly a refreshing game to watch after last year’s disappointing performance.
You can coin last season “the transition.” It was Coach Gregg Olson’s first year at Mac and a talented class of 2012 had graduated. With a relatively inexperienced team and a new coach, last year’s squad crawled to a 4-13-1 finish. This preseason, however, everything changed.
“I’ve described it to some as nearly a 180 from last preseason,” Olson said. “Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that the guys feel more comfortable. They are more comfortable with the coaching staff, the system of play, the vocabulary we use. Right from the start it’s just been smoother.”
Think of this year as the initiation of “The Return” (thank you, Derrick Rose) to Macalester soccer glory. It is evident that players have bought into the system and team chemistry is much improved. Coach Olson has also taken valuable lessons from his first year to make adjustments, not only to the team but to his own coaching.
“Chemistry and fitness have been two of the keys,” said defender and captain Cole Erickson ’15 (Bloomington, Minn). “We came in fit knowing there were expectations that had to be met, expectations that our success depends on. We also have a fun group. We really get along and enjoy playing together. On top of that, the freshmen have transitioned really well.”
At press time, the team is 1-3. While this is not an ideal record, it’s important to note the team’s difficult schedule. In the season opener, the team lost to 6th-ranked perennial power Wheaton College.
“The Wheaton game rattled the foundation that we had laid down in preseason,” Olson said. “They were the best soccer team I had seen since 2009.”
Wheaton struck first but Mac tied the game with a fantastic goal by midfielder Alan Schembri-Wismayer ’17 (Rochester, Minn.). Just minutes later, goalkeeper Noah Schoenberg ’16 (Bala Cynwyd, Pa.) received an unlucky red card for taking out an opposing player on a breakaway. Wheaton developed a clear advantage, scoring two quick goals shortly thereafter. They added another in the closing minutes to make it a 4-1 final.
“That game put things into perspective,” Erickson said. “It showed the work rate and type of play we need to have. They were a high quality opponent and we know we need to treat every team we play like a Wheaton. While we lost that game, it was still a very important game for the team going forward.”
“We have a goal of winning the MIAC and we know how we need to play to beat a team like Wheaton in the future. We believe we can do that,” he added.
Last Thursday, Mac faced another highly regarded non-conference opponent in Wartburg (Iowa). Although Wartburg went ahead early, the game was back and forth throughout. The Scots’ failure to grab a crucial goal proved costly in the 1-0 loss. A series of losses could crush a team’s morale early in the year, but the level-headed Scots remain confident.
“We’ve started the year with a couple losses, but there definitely isn’t any panic on the team and each game has been a good learning experience for us, win or lose,” said midfielder Will Mackaman ‘14 (Des Moines, Iowa).
There’s a lot to be excited about with this squad. Other than star forward Taylor Rasmussen ’13 (now an assistant coach), much of the team’s core has returned. In addition to Mackaman, Ben Dugoni ’14 (Portland, Ore.) provides extra experience and attacking prowess to the midfield. Central defenders Erickson and Paul Lund ’14 (Madison, Wis.) are one of the most talented center back combos in the MIAC and co-captain forward Robin Forslund ’14 (Madison, Wis.) has caused opposing defenders fits since recovering from a preseason groin strain. Toss Alan Schembri-Wismayer ’17 into the fray and the offense is catalyzed. The first-year already leads the team in points (4), including two goals.
“Seven games into last season, we were still trying different combinations of starting lineups,” Olson said. “This year, going into every game we know the lineup. While there’s been a core pillar up the middle that’s been awesome, everyone has taken more ownership of their role which has really elevated us.”
This includes the first-years. Thus far, eight first-years have already seen first team minutes. “The coaching staff has done a great job bringing in a quality freshman class that has some very good players that we’ve already been able to see in our first couple games,” Forslund said. “We expect big things from all of them this year, and certainly for years to come as well.”
With an experienced core and talented first-years, all feet are on deck as the Scots gear up for their conference schedule. “The Return” has begun and still has a ways to go, but there is a buzz to this team that was absent last year. Macalester won the MIAC regular season in 2010. Maybe it will happen this year, maybe it won’t, but things are looking up for this bunch.