SPORTS

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October 1, 2006

Retooled men's soccer hits stride with new coach

It was a tumultuous offseason for men’s soccer. After leading the squad to a 14–5–1 finish in 2005, head coach John O’Connor announced his resignation in March to take over the same position at the University of Rhode Island, setting off a three-month long nationwide search that culminated finally in the hiring of Brown assistant Scott Wiercinski in May.

The arrival of the new coach and a new season shook things up in Hyde Park a little more than expected this fall, but the team’s ability to adapt to the changes has put the Maroons on the fast-track to success.

With five freshman earning regular playing time on the pitch and a number of other players settling in at new positions, the Maroons got off to an uncharacteristically rocky start to the season, winning only once in their first three contests. Since a September 9 loss at Ohio Dominican however, Chicago has rattled off four straight wins while outscoring its opponents 8–1. During the streak the squad has exhibited flashes of its true potential, a young team growing into its own before the rough and tumble world of UAA competition begins Saturday.

“They’re all new to me and I’m new to them,” Wiercinski said. “The comforts no longer existed, there were a lot of new players in new positions; it was a transition period. Our goals are not based on wins and losses but in development. I wanted the team to buy into what’s new. The goal is to get the team on the same page in terms of style, effort, and building an ethos as a team.”

“I would like our team to be very physical—intense defensively and urgent offensively. A free-flowing offensive and possession oriented team is the ideal.”

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Inheriting a young team that has clawed its way into the second round of the UAA tournament, Wiercinski did not hesitate to shake things up. Blessed with a sparkling crop of incoming first-years, the new coach has had the confidence to put five of them in the lineup on a consistent basis and the early returns have been positive. First-years Alex Takakuwa and Jan-Michael Guerra have showed flashes of brilliance in the midfield while classmate Edgar Friloux has made an impression while receiving playing time in the midfield and up top.

Despite a reshuffling of the back four, the Maroons’ defense has developed its chemistry and started turning back threatening offenses. The emergence of first-year central defender John Hughes, who has shown poise belying his age while manning the middle, has allowed Wiercinski to shift third-year Jon Cartwright over to fullback. Cartwright, for his part, has been a strong presence, serving as the emotional leader of the flat back four defense.

Anchoring the Maroons in front of the net, fourth-year goalkeeper Keith Crum has been a dependable shot-stopper since returning from an ACL suffered in the penultimate match of the 2005 season. The school’s all-time leader in clean sheets with 20, Crum has benefited as much as any other player from the new coach. Wiercinski, who minded the net for Middlebury as a college player, has worked with the former walk-on on his technique.

“Throughout preseason, I was still trying to get to know everyone, so we didn’t spend as much time working individually,” Wiercinski said. “Now we’ve started working with him on the more technical aspects and I think it has paid off a bit. He’s getting a little bit sharper technically.”

Thus far the new skipper’s first year in Hyde Park has had its ups and downs, but with a bit of momentum on their side and a group that has shown a willingness to adapt on the fly, the future and the present look bright for the Maroons.

“I would like our team to be very physical—intense defensively and urgent offensively. A free-flowing offensive and possession oriented team is the ideal.”

Spotlight on Eric Kirkenmeier

Making the switch from defense to center midfield with ease, third-year Eric Kirkenmeier has helped to carry the team with his aggressive play and leadership skills.

“He’s emerging into a good leader. His physical work and defensive ball winning skills have really benefited everyone around him,” Wiercinski said. “He used to play in the back, but I think he’s grown into his new position. He becomes more of a leader each day.”

The Wheaton native has made the most of his new offensive duties, ranking second on the team in scoring with two goals. If the Maroons are to carry their strong play into the UAA season, their new center midfielder will be a major reason why,