Oakland Has Sights Set On Third NCAA Trip

With four Mid-Continent Conference regular season titles, one Mid-Con Tournament title and two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament; all in the last five years, Oakland’s men’s soccer team as quickly established itself as one of the top team’s in the Mid-Con. In 2004 the Golden Grizzlies have their sights set on another Mid-Con title and trip to the NCAAs. Lofty goals indeed, but head coach Gary Parsons has a talented and deep squad that is very capable of attaining those goals as the team prepares for the new season ahead.

Chris Edwards' 15 career goals lead all returning players in 2004.

Last season Oakland finished 12-5-5 overall and captured the Mid-Con regular season title with a 5-1 conference mark. Despite a loss in the Mid-Con Tournament championship game, Oakland, which had wins over top-20 teams from Portland and Akron, was ranked as high as 15th in the nation and was awarded a berth in the NCAA Tournament where it fell in a close opening round match at Tulsa in overtime. While Oakland lost its top goal scorer and top defender from last year’s squad, there is good news for Golden Grizzly fans. The team returns eight starters and 13 letterwinners, including over 60 percent of its scoring and all of its goalkeeping, to build the 2004 edition of the OU men’s soccer team with.

Back to lead the OU offense is junior forward Chris Edwards. Last season he tied for the team lead in goals with nine and with 15 career goals to his credit, Oakland will be counting on him to continue to put the ball into the back of the net as one of its primary offensive weapons.

Accounting for the rest of the returning OU offensive firepower will be the Golden Grizzly midfield, a group that counts six returning players with experience from last year, five of whom scored at least one goal. Senior Shahar Ktovim has developed into a solid midfielder for OU and started 19 of the 21 matches he played in last season when he shared the team lead with six assists to go along with his three goals. Another pair of seniors will be back as well, giving the Golden Grizzlies an experienced core group to construct their midfield around. Doug Rice started all 22 matches last season, coming back from a torn ACL injury in 2002 to earn first team All-Mid-Con honors. He contributed one goal and a pair of assists, with his score counting as the game winner against Wright State late in the season. Brett McNabb has been a starter in all three of his previous seasons and will anchor another midfield slot. He matched Ktovim for the lead among midfielders last season with three goals, adding three assists as well.

Senior Doug Rice was a first team All-Mid-Con midfielder in 2003.

Adding depth to the midfield for the Golden Grizzlies are three other returning letterwinners, each of whom saw action in at least 10 games last season. Senior Marcus Halland had a goal and an assist in 19 matches and brings 49 career games worth of experience to the OU lineup. Another senior that brings a lot of playing experience with him is Brandon Felker. After transferring into Oakland last season he became a scoring threat off the bench for the Golden Grizzlies, netting a pair of goals and three assists in 19 outings. Sophomore Jim Denk will be looking for more playing time as well, getting 10 matches worth of valuable experience a year ago.

Senior Ryan Rzepka is dangerous as both a defensive and offensive player.

Defense should also be a strong suit for the Golden Grizzlies with five experienced players returning for another year of action. A two-time All-Mid-Con player, senior Ryan Rzepka is the leader along the back line and is one of the top defenders in the conference. The 2003 Mid-Con Scholar Student-Athlete of the Year, he is also an offensive threat for OU, scoring four goals and handing out five assists last season. Another senior defender with plenty of experience is Matt Connor. He has been a starter for the past two seasons and also has the ability to add a goal here and there, with four career scores to his credit. Brady Vance is coming off a strong freshman season that saw him start 11 of the 21 matches that he played in. With the experience that he gained last season he should be in the mix for even more playing time in 2004. Adding even more depth to the defense is junior Danny Ng. He saw his first significant playing time of his career last season, getting 11 starts and notching his first career goal.

Goalkeeping should not be a concern for Oakland, as junior Jeff Wiese returns for his third season between the pipes. He has been OU’s starter for the past two seasons and has established himself as one of the top keepers in the region. A four time Mid-Con Player of the Week last year, he finished the season with a 0.79 goals against average, a mark that placed him 29th in the nation. A first team All-Mid-Con pick in his first two seasons, he also earned all-region honors last year and was a first team Academic All-America pick. Backing Wiese up will be sophomore Josh Slaughter who had a solid first season in goal, posing a 0.96 GAA and recording one shutout in five matches of action.

Oakland will have a large group of incoming players this season that will help fill in the holes and round out the team with depth at all of the positions. Jonathon Barth is a defender from a strong club team in Illinois that is expected to help fill the void left by the graduated Jason Perry. Adam Kliebert is a midfielder that has played on the local Vardar club team that and will add quickness to that position. Logan Lyon, from Charlotte, Michigan, is another defender that will bolster an already strong position with his quickness. A talented forward, Nicholas Nelson played club ball in the Kalamazoo area and could contribute some minutes right away this season. Another local player to sign with Oakland is Adam Brent who will add to the team’s depth at an outside back position. Other newcomers to the squad that will be learning the ropes and adjusting to the collegiate game include midfielders Bjoernar Hansen and Josh Mahoney; forwards Nick Nelson and Dave Stoffel; defender Chris Kelly and goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Oakland, like last season, will prepare itself for a possible NCAA Tournament bid with a challenging schedule. The Golden Grizzlies will test themselves early with an exhibition game against NCAA Tournament participant Wisconsin-Milwaukee before opening the season with a game in California against powerful UCLA. There are a total of six 2003 NCAA Tournament teams on the OU schedule, including four of the first six opponents.

With the tough early season schedule, Oakland will find out quickly what it is made of in 2004. With the experience coming back, however, look for the Golden Grizzlies to use the early schedule to hone themselves into yet another Mid-Con title contender.

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