Golden Grizzlies Look to Youth for Success

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Senior Goalkeeper Mike Skolnik

Oakland University's men’s soccer team is in the midst of making Mid-Con history by attempting to win back-to-back titles. In the 2000 season the Golden Grizzlies went 12-6-1 and 4-1 in the Mid-Continent Conference and won their first conference championship at the Division I level.

Oakland finished the regular season with a 11-5-1 record and was crowned the Mid-Con regular season champions heading into the conference tournament. In the first game of the tournament Oakland narrowly defeated UMKC by the score of 4-3 in double overtime. In the final game of the tourney Oakland fell at the hands of IUPUI as the Jaguars turned away the Grizzlies in triple overtime 2-1.

Oakland’s hopes to win both the regular season and tournament championships fell short in 2000, but the Grizzlies are gearing up for 2001 with their eyes on another championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament.

There are always obstacles in winning back-to-back championships and this season is no different. The Grizzlies will have their share of obstacles and maybe the biggest one will be the lack of upperclassmen. There are only three seniors and two juniors on the 2001 roster.

"This will be the youngest team I’ve ever had," said head coach Gary Parsons. "There will be a lot of work for us trying to get everybody on the same page as fast as we can."

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Senior Inge Pedersen

Experience will be one thing Parsons and his squad will be lacking in 2001 as the Grizzlies lost 10 letterwinners, including nine starters from last season.

"Defensively we lost a lot of players from last year," said Parsons. "The whole back line is gone, so we are going to have a lot of fresh new faces on the field defensively."

OU will have another tough schedule as the Golden Grizzlies will play non-conference games against, Marquette, Portland, Cincinnati, New Mexico and the 18th ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State.

"The schedule is very similar to last year," said Parsons. The only difference is that we had San Diego on the schedule last year and at the time they were a top 10 team. Overall we will still get the same type of quality competition from this years teams."

In addition to the aforementioned opponents the Grizzlies will face in-state rivals Western Michigan, Detroit, Michigan and Michigan State and all the Mid-Continent Conference opponents.

"Our games versus other state teams are always important because they give people in the community a barometer of where your program is in the state," said Parsons. "We have been considered the top team in the state and we want to maintain that reputation."

Despite the Grizzlies concern of inexperienced players Parsons is looking forward to the 2001 season.

"We have a good corps of players that we recruited that will evolve and create a very strong team," said Parsons. "On paper we probably have potentially improved ourselves from an attacking standpoint."

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Sophomore Brian Williams

Mike Skolnik (Sr./Livonia/Churchill HS) should be number one in the net for the Golden Grizzlies in 2001. Last season Skolnik started all 19 games and played all 1711 minutes of last season. He had seven shutouts, 59 saves and 21 goals against for a 1.10 GAA. Vying for time in goal will be freshman Jeff Wiese (Omaha, Nebraska /Millard West HS). Wiese helped his team to a 48-12 record in his final three years.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for Parsons and due to the loss of all four of his starting defenders, is defense. Returners competing for starting spots are Brian Williams (So./ Fraser/Fraser HS) and red-shirt freshmen Ryan Rzepka (Novi/Novi HS), Frank Raburn (Novi/Novi HS) and Matt Connor (East Lansing/East Lansing HS).

Last season Williams played in 11 games and started nine of them and took three shots on goal for the Grizzlies. Rzepka, Raburn and Connor will all compete for a starting position after red-shirting their freshman season.

Key newcomers that will add depth to the defense are in-coming freshmen Greg Vuagniaux (Omaha, Nebraska/Harry A. Burke HS), Marcus Halland (Vikersund, Norway/NTG), Danny Ng (Randolph, Massachusetts/Randolph HS), Kevin Giroux (Troy/Athens HS) and Scott Cottrell (Kalamazoo/Central HS).

Vuagniaux received first team all-state honors and ranked as one of the top 10 players in Nebraska in scoring. Halland is a freshman from Norway who will compete for time as a defender. Ng was named league all-star three times and was voted an Eastern Massachusetts All-Star in 1999 and 2000 and was named all-state his senior season.

In-state recruits competing for time at the defensive spots are Kevin Giroux and Scott Cottrell. Giroux, a freshman from Troy Athens, helped the Red Hawks to a 68-16-11 record in his four years. He was named All-Midwest, first team all-state and Dream Team member as a senior. Cottrell, a freshman from Kalamazoo Central, was a top performer for the Giants as a defender.

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Sophomore Robert Hillman

Returners for the midfield positions are Inge Pedersen (Sr./Klofta, Norway/Jessheim HS), Chris King (Sr./Livonia/Clarenceville/Eastern Michigan) and Robert Hillman (So./East Lansing/Catholic Central).

Pedersen played in and started 18 games for OU as he had seven goals, five assists and led the team with 19 points. King played in 10 matches and started three of them at the midfield position, while Hillman played in 17 games and started two last season for OU. Hillman scored one goal and had two assists in 2000.

Also vying for a starting position is redshirt freshman Doug Rice (Brighton/Brighton HS) and incoming freshman Bret McNabb (Fr. Cape Girardeau , Missouri/Cape Central HS).

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Sophomore Anders Vollen

Leading the returners is Anders Vollen (So. Olso, Norway/Nordstrand HS) at the forward positions. Vollen played in and started 13 games for the Grizzlies as he recorded five goals and one assist for 11 points.

Key newcomers at the forward spots are Phillip Braathen (So. Stavanger, Norway/Ulsrud/Stavanger University), Michael Martin (Fr. Miami, Florida/Southwest Miami HS) and Craig Gibson (Glasgow, Scotland).

Braathen attended one year at Stavanger University College in Stavanger, Norway and also played for a second division team Sandnes FK which won the military national championship in 1999. Martin scored 31 goals and had five assists as a senior for Southwest Miami High School. Gibson served in the youth team for Hibernian for Edinborough, Scotland.

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