Taking the Next Step

For the Oakland men’s soccer team the 2003 season will resonate with one common objective, “Taking the next step.”  With their entire roster intact from last year and a few key additions, the team will be looking to improve upon their first round loss to UW-Milwaukee in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.  Entering his 23rd season at Oakland, head coach Gary Parsons and the Golden Grizzlies have maintained the same goals from last season as a stepping-stone to advancing further into the postseason.

            “The team’s goals and expectations have not changed from last year, just to take it a step further,” stated Parsons.  "One goal is to be undefeated against in-state competition, which we fell just short of against Michigan at the end of the season last year.  We are also looking to win the conference regular season and the conference tournament to get back to the NCAA Tournament and advance past the first round.”

            Returning as reigning Mid-Con regular season and tournament champions, Parsons and his squad realize they will be marked as the team to beat, which means achieving their goals will be no small task.   There will also be the added pressure of making this year’s tournament since Oakland will be hosting once again, after becoming the first team to win the Mid-Con Tournament as hosts last season. 

Oakland will look to repeat as Mid-Con Tournament champions in 2003.

“We have the pressure of hosting the Mid-Con Tournament so we have to be in the top four.  But the pressure of athletics and the pressure on a team is constant so it is what you make of it,” says Parsons.  “That pressure will make us more alert, make us more aware that we have responsibilities out on that field, and it will make us a better team.  If you look at pressure like you’re worried about it then I think it’s negative and I don’t look at that as a negative, I see it as a positive.  I want to be looked at as the team to beat in the conference.  We want that responsibility of having to play well everyday to succeed.  So I am hoping and thinking it will make us a better team.”

           Being the better team will have to mean improving on some areas while maintaining the strengths from last season.  One of those improvement areas Parsons will be focusing on throughout the season will be producing more offense.  “We always have to work on getting better offensively and putting the ball in the back of the net.  This statement does not bode well for the opposition as Oakland finished the season tied for first in the Mid-Con in goals scored.

           Nonetheless, Parsons will be looking for more production from his attacking players.  “We don’t have a particular player who is going to score 15-20 goals in a season, which is good and bad.  There is not a big time goal scorer who you know is going to get you a goal every game.  But when you have that kind of player teams can key in on him and shut down your offense, where our offense is a little more multi-faceted.  So the attacking players have to get better at goal scoring.  We get it from different players but we need to get more of it.” 

On the other side of the ball, Oakland should have no problems keeping opponents off of the scoreboard with a solid returning back line.  Last season, the defense held opponents to a conference best 1.24 goals per game average.  “Our major strength I think is team defense,” stated Parsons.  “I think everyone is on the same page as far as the importance of getting the ball back so we can attack.  We are not gifted individually, defensively, but as a group they work very well together.”  This is not the only thing that contributes to the success of the team though.  “I think the attitude of the team is also a strength.  The guys pull for each other, they work hard together, and they are committed.”

This season’s crop of newcomers could also become another strength for the team.  Brandon Felker should prove to have the most impact coming in.  A transfer from Detroit Mercy, Felker was a starter for the Titans and one of the top players on their team.  Parson will be looking for him to provide immediate help.  “He is a proven quality player at the college level, so we will be looking to position him where he will best help the team.”             

2002 Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year, Jeff Wiese, will return as Oakland's top goalkeeper.

Also looking to make an immediate impact will be freshman Alex McDonald, John Pizanis, Brady Vance, and Jim Gentile.  With a veteran team that has everyone back though these four are going to have to prove they are better than what is out there to get a chance to play over the returnees.  Whether earning a starting spot or coming off the bench, Parsons is certain these four will add depth to a team that was lacking in that area last season.  “We certainly have four quality freshman coming in that we think can help us and we are going to have to look at them during preseason to see where we think they can help us and how.  What immediate impact they can have on the team will certainly help with our depth, which was probably one of our biggest weaknesses last season.  This season will be the deepest team I have ever had with the quality of players certainly since we have gone Division I.”  That depth starts at the top with the returning players at their respective positions.  

Goalkeeper:
  Jeff Wiese will enter his sophomore year as the starting goalkeeper for Oakland.  Wiese was named Mid-Con Newcomer of the Year last season as he led the conference with six shutouts and a 1.24 goals against average.  Backing up Wiese will be redshirt freshman Josh Slaughter.  Parsons believes Slaughter has made tremendous improvements in goal and has great confidence in him if needed. 

Defense:  Leading the defense will be returning co-captains Ryan Rzepka and Jason Perry.  Rzepka was named second team all-conference last season along with being selected to the Mid-Con All-Tournament Team.  Perry received first team All-Mid-Con honors and was named to the Great Lakes Region third team.

             Also returning to help out in the back will be Matt Connor and Danny Ng.  Connor finished second on the team among defenders with three goals and Ng has shown great improvement from last season and will be looked at to help out on defense.  Scott Cottrell will be looking to make a bigger impact on the team in the back line.  

             McDonald, Pizanis, Vance, and Gentile can all play in the back as well, leaving Oakland with plenty of options on defense.  Pizanis and McDonald are both options at center back and Vance and Gentile are options at the outside fullback spot.  

Co-captain Jason Perry leads an Oakland defense that held opponents to 1.24 goals per game in 2002.

Midfield:  Doug Rice, who sat out the second half of the season with a knee injury, is expected to be back at 100% to lead the Golden Grizzlies in the midfield.  Complimenting Rice in the middle will be Mark Thomas, Shahar Ktovim, Bret McNabb, and Anders Vollen. 

Thomas is a central midfielder who appeared in 20 games and started in nine for Oakland last season.  Ktovim emerged last season to lead all midfielders with six goals, including the game-winner against Western Illinois in the Mid-Con Tournament Finals.  As a result he was selected to the Mid-Con All-Tournament Team and named tournament MVP.  McNabb, who netted the game-winning goal in the semi-finals of the conference tournament, anchored Oakland in the midfield last season and ended with four points.  Vollen led the team with six assists last season.  He received first team all-conference honors and was also selected to the Mid-Con All-Tournament team. 

The midfield position is where Oakland is the most versatile with a few players that can also play up front.  Felker is a central midfielder who has good attacking skills and gets forward well.  This will give Parsons a lot of flexibility to rotate some players and try different options up top. 

Forward:  Philip Braathen and Chris Edwards provide the Golden Grizzlies’ offensive spark at the forward position.  Braathen garnered Mid-Con Player of the Year and first team conference honors last season as he led the team with eight goals.  Edwards received second team all-conference honors and was selected to the Mid-Con All-Tournament Team in 2002.  He finished second behind Braathen with six goals and had three multiple goal games. 

2002 conference Player of the Year, Philip Braathen, will direct Oakland up front. 

Up top is the place that is most unproven for Oakland though despite this duo as Parsons searches for that third forward who can provide the extra offense that he believes the team lacked last season.

Last season’s reserves may hold the answer Parsons is looking for at the forward position.  Mike Matalavy, Marcus Halland, and James Fox were all reserves for Oakland last year.  Fox suffered injury, but played a little at the end of the season.  All of these players will be looking to improve their position on the team either in the midfield or up front.  Michael Martin, Matalavy, and Fox all played a little bit on the wing last year.  Mike Vega is another option at the forward spot as he looks to improve his status on the team and get some more minutes for the Golden Grizzlies. 

Oakland has the depth to try different options on the field.  This depth will be one of many useful weapons as they prepare to “Take the Next Step,” in 2003. 

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