photo courtesy of Denver Athletics
With a 1-0 win over Eastern Illinois, Denver men’s soccer extended its regular season unbeaten streak to 28 games. Boasting a 9-0-2 record thus far in 2016, the Pioneers are maintaining their top ten status in the national rankings, currently ranked at #8. As such, the program is looking to advance further this year in hopes of winning its first national title. After going undefeated in the regular season last year and snapping its 29-match home unbeaten streak during the second round of the NCAA tournament, the team has returned with a vengeance and is determined to achieve their preseason goals.
“As far keeping them hungry and humble, the NCAA Tournament did that to us last year. To go 18 games unbeaten and to be ranked in the top ten in the country and for all of it to come crashing down on a long throw in left a pit in our stomach,” Coach Franks said. “I think whether its the staff reminding the guys or the guys reminding each other, that game is definitely on our minds. [We’re] just really looking to keep the guys accountable, keep the expectations high and to push the group.”
Entering his second year as DU’s head coach, Franks turned the program around last season while turning some heads. His Pios drew national attention and created a culture of excellence. After graduating only two seniors, starters Dan Jackson and Jordan Schweitzer, the team was fortunate enough to maintain its chemistry with the returners and integrate the additions of five freshmen and transfers Blake Elder of the United States Air Force Academy and Graham Smith who had previously played at Oregon State University.
“What makes us different from everyone else is that we recruit off of character. Whether they are transfers or whether they are kids that are coming right out of high school, its based off of character,” Coach Franks said.”Whenever we graduate guys obviously we miss them. We miss Dan and we miss Jordan, but the team takes on a new dynamic each year. The guys that have come into the fold, trained every single day and remained process-oriented they were ready for their call when they got it.”
Aspects of this year’s team reflect the success derived from last season’s team with the notable factors of confidence, experience and camaraderie. Young talent from last season has now matured into a lineup of seasoned veterans with the goal not only to win the Summit, but to win a national title, allowing Franks to sit back a bit and allow the older guys to take control and a stronger leadership role.
“I think the first year was about setting the tone,” Coach Franks said. “This year I have older guys. Being able to give the guys like [captain] Sam Hamilton space to lead the team and create their own culture within the locker room is important. From year one to year two, I think trusting my leaders a bit more and giving them space to do their jobs has seen better more resilient Denver soccer.”
Against Eastern Illinois on Saturday Oct. 1, redshirt freshman Ryan Schaefer scored the first goal of his college career with the sole marker on the night. Junior Alex Underwood and redshirt junior Blake Elder set up Schaefer’s finish. The victory delivered the Pioneers’ second conference win in as many games.
The expectations within the program remain the same as last season: trust in the process, motivate by the end goal, while recognizing the importance of the day-to-day progress and immediate results.
“To be 9-0-2 and to be ranked in the top ten of the country again. I think last year it caught us off guard a little bit, just how everyone was going to approach the game and how [for opposing teams] it was their biggest game of the year. I don’t think that’s crept on us this year. Moving forward, I think holding the guys to the standards that’s going to make us win in December,” Coach Franks said.