The 2004 men's soccer team may have been less talented on an individual basis than the squad from the previous fall, but it didn't show up on the scoreboard. Chicago put together a thrilling, sum-greater-than-parts effort over the course of the season, and recorded a surprising 12-3-3 record. The team was ranked as high as 14th in Division III. Credit is due to many Maroons for the third-winningest season in program history. However, a pair of fourth-years who couldn't have been more different in personality and play style stood at the center.
By season's end, the combination of the perpetually smiling, technically creative midfielder Ben Preyss on the offensive end and center fullback Peter Ostroske's inner drive and defensive grittiness in the back proved to be a critical asset to the team.
Preyss took a while to seize his role as the team's offensive MVP. However, by the time he scored his final goal of the season, breaking a scoreless tie on a penalty kick against NYU in the second overtime period, there was little doubt who opposing goalkeepers needed to watch. The quick, technically proficient midfielder showed a keen awareness for through balls and good touch to the tune of seven goalsfour game winnersand two assists, and he stepped up admirably in the center midfield when classmate Reed Fleetwood went down with an injury mid-season.
His success was a little bit unexpected. Preyss came into 2004 with two goals and two assists in 42 career games.
"When he got put into a leadership role, I think he felt it was his duty to step up and elevate his game," head coach John O'Connor said. "Tactically he had to think more about what his entire role was as a player, and I think it was just fun for him to score goals, to celebrate, and have that passion and fun about it."
"I became a true teammate over my four years here," Preyss said. "I showed up as a rather undisciplined playerall I wanted to do was score goals and play some flashy offense. It took Coach O'Connor four years, but I eventually learned to play defense, and I ultimately figured out that winning 1-0 is so much more rewarding than losing 4-3."
With his new attention to the defensive end of the game, Preyss was able to display an incredible transition speed that impressed coaches and teammates alike.
Meanwhile, Ostroske was helping shut down the defensive end in front of the team's new goalie, second-year Keith Crum. Though Preyss was far and away the team's most productive offensive player, men's soccer grabbed their wins largely on the foundation of the suffocating defensive crew that Ostroske led. The unit limited opponents to just over nine shots per game and 11 goals all year.
"Obviously, every year you try to step up. As a senior, I hoped I was a part of leading this team. After four years, you become attached to a group of guys, and you can't help but give yourself up to them. We had one of the best years of my life," Ostroske said.
As his teammate worked on developing tactics, Ostroske was improving his endurance. His aim was to ensure that he was capable of keeping up with opposing forwards for the full 90 minutes in each and every game.
"Peter had to grow more in the physical aspects," O'Connor said. "He always had the brain, but he didn't always have the body and fitness. He grew a lot by taking things more seriously."
"Peter has worked very hard to get to where he got. He's an inner-driven guy. The last two years of his career is where he really shined the most."
"Coming in my freshman year, I don't think I had a chance of playing. I was awkward, probably a step behind everyone. Ever since first year, Coach O'Connor said I had a blue collar work ethic, and was a one-on-one defending. I always laughed at that, but now I think that's the greatest compliment he could have given me," Ostroske said. "I'd rather be the guy sweating blood and tears than the one with and 1 dribbling skills."
Ostroske's dependability helped ease the transition of bringing in two new starters, Crum and first-year defender Jonathon Cartwright. Having seen the two players prove themselves in practice and game situations, Ostroske gave them a vote of confidence, and led the creation of a cohesive unit that took the pressure off the younger players.
"Peter may have been one of the guys who was pessimistic a little bit at the beginning, but by the end of the spring, he was the first guy to have confidence in Keith," O'Connor said. "What he brought with his solid foundation was a larger margin for error, and he allowed Keith to play his game without feeling the pressure to have to save the game."
"To be honest, both kids came out and amazed the entire team," Ostroske said. "Keith was a walk-on keeper, but he was by far the best keeper I've ever played in front of. Jon Cartwright was also a great addition. Both kids are awesome."
While he was a captain and All-Region first-team honoree along with Preyss, Ostroske's style of play, along with his approach, was a sharp contrast with his offensive counterpart. The defender had a tougher, dirt-under-the-fingernails technique. His lead-by-example personality complimented Preyss's just-happy-to-be-there spirit, as both drove the team to one of the most dominant years in recent memory.
"We're going to miss them for their personalities, and their play," O'Connor said. "With Ben and Peter, they're best friends and roommates, but they're so divergent from each other."
Whether speedy or gritty, steady or explosive, or scoring or shutting offense down, this pair stepped up big and did it their own way all year long.