Macalester men’s soccer looks to return to national prominence


Forward Hans Haenicke ’25 looks towards goal. Photo courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

Gwen Reoch, Sports Editor

Macalester men’s soccer program is no stranger to success. For the 11-time Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Champions, including as recently as 2015, standards are and always will be high. Just last year, the team made it to the MIAC playoff semifinals, barely topped by Carleton, 1-0. This season, in a non-conference schedule filled with annual national contenders, including a tough trip to face California powerhouse schools, the Scots currently sit at a 2-2-2 record. In their thrilling MIAC opener on Sept. 13, away at Concordia, Macalester took home a victory by a score of 4-2 . Hopefully, playing at a high level from the very start of the season will help the Scots elevate their game.

For a team that aims high year after year, integrating first years into the squad right away is crucial. Nine seniors have graduated and left the team, a high number for any usual program, but the Scots have managed to bring in 11 first-year recruits, almost all of which have seen game time. Head Coach Gregg Olson praised his team’s initiative in building a team culture and setting standards before the preseason.

“Our group of seniors did a really, really good job of staying connected with all of the team over the summer and to communicate expectations,” Olson said. “I feel like we came in in a much better place physically, but then also a much better place as far as community in the team with incorporating the first years, so that we can just get straight into soccer instead of needing to team build or do fitness. There’s so many elements that they came in with further ahead than a normal group that we were able to make huge strides during the first part of preseason here. I think we’ve been really productive with our time.”

Highlighting this class of first-years is defender Nick Kent ’26. The Scots’ defense returned most of its starters from 2021, but Kent has stepped into a centerback position previously manned by former captain Will Orser ’22. He has started all six games so far, playing the full 90 minutes in three. Starting alongside him is Jacob Kresnicka ’23, who has played the most minutes of any Scot this year.

“From an individual standpoint, we’re really lucky because we could start in a back five and start four of our starters at any given point from last year,” Olson said. “And [Kent] has watched us play since he was ten, so he gets it and he knows how we play, and he’s a very good player, so I think he incorporates into the system very seamlessly.”

This group of first-years as a whole is poised to make an impact on the league. Parker Etzbach ’26 announced himself to the MIAC in the win over Concordia, scoring a goal in the 80th minute to put the game away. Other goal contributions have come from Kent, Alex Beck-Ruiz ‘26 and Tanguy Lesegretain ’26. 

Even before any of the Class of 2026 had stepped on the field for the Scots, Athletics Director Donnie Brooks had faith in their ability to succeed right away.

“Talking to Gregg throughout last spring, he believed that this would be one of the best recruiting classes to ever enter Macalester,” Brooks said. “In recruiting, we talk a lot about ‘baby sharks’ — we don’t want first-year players who will come to Macalester and sit and wait their turn, we want first years who want to come and challenge right away. For Macalester, I think it’s really important that as we’re building students who want to be leaders for life, that kinda means that you get to start to make decisions now how you want to impact your team. The more baby sharks we have, the more it pushes the pace for the team.”

Defense has been the main training focus for the Scots leading into the season. Olson cited the mindset of Pep Guardiola, one of the world’s most revered soccer managers, of needing a solid backline before the attack can flourish. Macalester’s goals allowed tally was sixth best in the MIAC, a number Olson thinks needs to improve if they want to compete at the highest level again. Back when the Scots last won a conference championship in 2015, they ranked third.

“The way we’ve talked about things is that we felt we scored enough goals last year to win the conference,” Olson said. “Even though our production defensively was okay it wasn’t a trademark of ours. It’s where we start and end with things on our team … I think [defense] is the area we need to hit first to get to the attack.”

Clearly, the work put in has been paying off. The Scots have only let in five goals in six games, giving them the third best margin between goals scored and conceded per game.

The goalkeeper spot has been a crucial contributor to this early defensive success. In 2021, Cade Fink ’22 earned an All-MIAC Honorable Mention for his efforts in net, playing about 87% of the team’s total minutes. Coming into the first stretch of games, the position was still up for grabs, as Olson indicated the plan was to split time until standout performance indicated a clear #1. However, sophomore Sam Price ’25 has emerged as the clear first option, starting every game and playing every minute since the start of the second game. So far, Price has impressively racked up 27 saves, the second-most in the MIAC, while also allowing less than a goal per game played. 

Alternatively, there are very few questions or concerns in the Macalester attack. Led up front by Hans Haenicke ’25, the Scots will be adding even more talent to a unit that Olson has plenty of praise for. In 2021, Haenicke had a rookie year that can only be described as phenomenal. Leading the team in goals and assists, with eight and four respectively, he was the only Scot to earn a spot on the MIAC All-Conference Team, and one of only three first-year players from any school. And most importantly, Olson thinks the best is yet to come even in a tough year.

“Sophomore year is tough because he comes in as a known entity, but he’s such a fierce competitor that I think he takes a step forward,” Olson said. “I think we have players around him that will help him do that too, not only by giving him a better ball but also by finishing the ball that he provides too … I know his goal is to get to double digits in goals. He almost got there in goal involvements last year, which is incredible. He’s got the tools, he has the competitiveness, and he has the players around to do it.”

Another unseen impact of Haenicke’s performance is what it means to Macalester in the future. Macalester’s recruiting prowess, while boosted by academic reputation, isn’t as strong as some other NCAA Division III schools. Brooks emphasized the significance of that success.

“It allows players who played against Hans in high school or in club soccer to see that Macalester yields high level students and also high level athletes … there’s a different kind of light that shines on you when a player of a high caliber chooses Macalester,” Brooks said. “The goal every year is to try to get some students that are interested in levels like the NESCAC or even Mid-Major Division I to choose Mac, and when those students choose us it opens up the door for even more to show interest and understand what Macalester is really about – excellence in education.”

Haenicke has gotten off to a slow start on paper in 2022, averaging a goal contribution every three games, a far cry from his nearly one per game rate last year. However, both his low shot conversion rate and low shot-on-goal conversion rate indicate that a regression is coming, and the goals may start flowing again.

Should that happen, Haenicke could be on trajectory to challenge for Macalester records. The current all-time top goalscorer, Kimani Williams ’02, holds a realistically unbreakable record of 58 goals, but Olson believes Haenicke could end up with his name etched in history.

“I would definitely put him in the category to get himself into discussion of making [the top Mac goalscorers] list, but the second year is really hard because you feel a lot of pressure, and you feel like you’re a bit of a marked man,” said Olson. “But I do think he’s got really great support around him and players that can be dangerous as well.”

Despite the optimism, racking up wins won’t be easy in the MIAC. St. Olaf was ranked 15th in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Top 25 Poll after making it to the third round of the 2021 DIII Men’s Soccer Bracket. Three MIAC teams — St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus and Carleton — filled the top three spots in the NCAA DIII Region IX rankings at the end of the 2021 season. Macalester was right there with them, making it to the MIAC playoff semifinals and narrowly losing to Carleton, but they still have work to do to break into that upper echelon. Olson has confidence in his team’s ability to reach those heights once again.

“There’s probably five to six teams in the MIAC, and I do put us into that category, that have the ability to make ripples at a national level … [St Olaf] is returning almost everybody, Carleton is going to be good, Augsburg is going to be really good, and St John’s will be St. Johns,” Olson said. “So I think that our conference comes back around in a way that if we find ourselves not winning the conference, you can still make headway at a national level too. That’s going to be important in how we start the year as a conference with our non-conference games to set us up for that.”

In their first MIAC game, the 4-2 win over Concordia on Sept. 13, the Scots’ offense shined. Branko Sciortino ’24, who has provided a consistent attacking threat all year, contributed two shots on goal and stability on defense. The Scots conceded first in the 13th minute, but powered back with goals from Milosz Fernandez-Kepka ’23 and Grant Luca ’25 to put them ahead. Haenicke and Etzbach secured the victory with goals of their own. Despite conceding two goals, the most in any game this season, Macalester’s defense put in a strong effort to hold off a persistent Cobbers press.

The Scots will play four more games in September, three against MIAC teams. A Sept. 24 home contest against St. Olaf will provide a true test of what this Macalester team is made of.

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