2012 Hillcat Men's Soccer Season Preview
CLAREMORE, Okla.-The 2012 season brings about several new faces to the RSU men’s soccer team as the Hillcats lost nine starters from a season ago. Head Soccer Coach Derek Larkin has brought in several newcomers to fill the void and come together with the returners. RSU made tremendous strides during the 2011 season as they work to become one of the primer programs in the region.
“It’s always a challenge when you lose such great players all at once,” Larkin said. “We lost a large number of kids last year and it is an obstacle we had to overcome. We worked very hard in the offseason, bringing in a lot of new players and good talent. We are really, really excited about the level of play. Some international flair and some very good local players that have come together great. So far, they have been much better than we had expected, the talent is there it’s just a matter of putting it all together. “
The Hillcats have produced a 10 or more win season over the past five years and they are looking to take the next step as a program.
“Obviously our expectations are the national tournament and we are capable,” Larkin said. “We are just a game away every year. By our conference only taking one team each year it’s a hurdle we have to overcome. We feel we have the talent to do it but a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen. We have to be peaking at the right time and you have to have luck on your side but we hope this is the year. The great thing about the whole team is for the first time in a long time we have a lot of depth. We have 28 guys right now and every one of them can contribute. It will be fun to see it play out this year.”
With the loss of seniors Henrique Sousa and T.J. Martin, Mohammad Shaban is the lone returner on the front line. The Tulsa, Okla. native had a standout freshman season where he led the Hillcat offense with eight goals and two assists. Coach Larkin has brought in several new faces who could be immediate contributors to the offense.
“The exciting thing is we didn’t really have a go-to-guy on the front line last year,” Larkin said. “This year Mohammad is coming back after a very big freshman year and we have high expectations for him. But not only do we have high hopes for Mohammad but also Division I transfer from Jamaica Necas Collins who can add explosiveness to our front line. Dillion Beaird from Union High School is a very talented player as a freshman. We have four or five really good players that I think will be really fun to watch.”
Senior Gary Aruz is the lone starting midfielder left from the 2011 season. He played in 18 games, starting in 16, controlling the RSU midfield.
“We are completely starting over in the midfield,” Larkin said. “We’ve got Gary Arauz coming back who is a senior that transferred from Oral Roberts last season and Adam Harmon was a freshman that started in there last year. Matt Levenson, a transfer from Northern Junior College, along with Niall Masterson who transferred in from Coffeyville are really good players who will be impact players in the midfield. We are really excited about our midfielders this year. There are so many players that can help us so we’re excited to see how it all plays out.”
Bryan Jones returns for his senior campaign and will anchor the RSU defense. The Tulsa, Okla. product has been a mainstay for the Hillcats on the back line for the last two seasons and Coach Larkin is expecting him to do the same in 2012.
“We are excited for Bryan Jones,” Larkin said. “It’s his senior year and he looks better than he ever has. I think we’re surrounding him with really good players. He’s a senior and we expect big things. He can definitely be an anchor back there. We have a lot of new, young players that we hope will be solid additions. Kaspar Kokis, who is a local player from Owasso, will step in and help us along with transfers Adam Young and Kevin Howard. English centerback Mitchell Sowerby will also be an immediate impact player. We just have a whole plethora of backs that we feel will help us.”
With the loss of goalkeeper Jeremy Swift, the Hillcats will put the bulk of the weight on senior Nathan Inger’s shoulders. Inger started in six of the eight contests he played in during his first season on the Hill in 2011. He transferred to RSU after playing at Northern Oklahoma College. Redshirt freshman Mitchell Penton will also be vying for time in goal.
“It’ll be a battle between Nathan Inger and Mitchell Penton for the starting spot,” Larkin said. “Nate spent a lot of time in the offseason playing in the professional development league. He’s fit, he’s ready to go, and he’s true leader as a senior. We really feel like he’s the guy we can count on. We’re excited to see how he plays.”
Coach Larkin has put together a challenging schedule for the Hillcats as they prepare for the rigors of Sooner Athletic Conference play. The Hillcats have three teams on their schedule who a ranked in the top 10 of the NAIA Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll.
“Our conference is so tough top to bottom,” Larkin said. But our nonconference schedule is just as tough. Our second road game of the season is against regional rival Oklahoma Wesleyan who received a lot of votes and is ranked No. 23. We will play them along with some really tough opponents like Southwestern Christian, Friends University, No.8 Hannibal LaGrange, and No. 10 Missouri Valley. Our nonconference is strong enough that if we do well we’ll be able to move into the top 25.”
The Rogers State men’s soccer team was ranked No.6 in the Sooner Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer Coaches’ Preseason Poll. Coach Larkin’s squad finished fifth in the league in 2011, going 5-4-1 in the SAC with an 11-8-1 overall record. The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma was the unanimous No. 1 pick of the SAC men’s soccer coaches to win the 2012 conference title. The Drovers have won two of the last three league titles and captured the 2011 crown by seven points.
Larkin’s sixth season on the Hill brings along some welcome changes to the venue his team calls home. During the off season, Soldier Field was converted to artificial turf and a 9,000 square-foot fieldhouse for the soccer and cross country teams was built in the north end zone of Soldier Field, adjacent to Blue Starr Drive. The facility features spacious locker rooms for the men’s and women’s soccer teams as well as the men’s and women’s cross country teams. Coaches’ offices, an athletic training room, and storage areas for athletics and intramurals is located in the central area of the building. The facility also includes permanent concessions and restrooms for patrons and a paved concourse area with sightlines to the field.
“Our soccer facilities are some of the best in the state,” Larkin said. “We have great academic and athletic standards at RSU which attracts great players and in turn attracts great crowds. I am really looking forward to the game day environment at Soldier Field this season.”