MEQUON, Wis. - Like the other perennial challengers for the Northern Athletics Conference title, the Concordia University Wisconsin men's soccer team is looking to unseat current champion Dominican University in 2011. While the Falcons have ranked consistently in the top four of their league with Aurora University and MSOE, none of those schools has been able to top the five-time champion Stars. Head coach Tom Saleska feels this year's squad has the tools and mindset to put together a memorable season and be competitive with the best.
"I am confident in our ability to have a successful season," Saleska said. "I believe this because we return several solid starting players, a fact which should help us stay consistent on both ends of the field. Another strong recruiting class and a little luck staying healthy will take us a long way."
The Falcons return five players who received NAC All-Conference recognition a season ago, after helping the team finish with a 12-6-3 record. It was the 17th time in Saleska's 18-year career at the helm that his program earned double-digit victories.
The focal point of Saleska's team has always been defense - allowing just 0.96 goals per game last year - and this season will be no different. The backfield will once again be led by senior Bryan Samuel (Brookfield, Wis.), junior Jason Rogers (Glendale, Wis.), junior Jacob Streicher (West Allis, Wis.), and sophomore Jacob Pope (Muskego, Wis.).
The trio combined to play over 5,300 minutes as the last line of defense in front of senior goalkeeper Samuel Ische (Menomonee Falls, Wis.), who returns for his second season as the full-time starter. Ische recorded five shutouts and a .750 save percentage, on 177 shots faced, during his junior campaign.
"The strength of our team is the returning experience on defense," Saleska said. "I would like to see us play at our peak in the beginning of the season. If we can eliminate a few inconsistencies in the early part of the year, it will help us become a better unit."
Junior Kyle Sytsma (Antoich, Ill.) returns as the offensive leader for CUW after being ranked in the top-10 among NAC players in several categories, most notably sixth in points (27) and goals (11).
"We scored enough goals to win last year," Saleska said. "Offense comes down to having that special player, which we have been missing for the past two or three years. Sytsma was good offensively for us last year; however we have several candidates who might fill that 'special player' void."
The Falcons will open training camp later this week with an estimated 43 student-athletes reporting, including 20 freshman. Saleska sees Justin Holentunder (New Berlin, Wis.) and Juan Perez (Antioch, Ill.) competing for a starting spot, but nobody is a lock.
The time and commitment the Falcons have put in over the past 10 months will be on display when they open the season at Fitting Field on Sept. 1 versus St. Norbert College at 5 p.m.