2002 Husky Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 20, 2002
Back to Basics. It's an old theme for a new season, but it's an idea that has merit as 11th-year Washington head coach Dean Wurzberger welcomes a team that features just eight upperclassmen, with four seniors and four juniors. Thirteen new players grace the roster in 2002, including nine true freshmen on a team that will attempt to make an eighth consecutive NCAA appearance.
Washington graduated seven seniors after the 2001 campaign, two whom are currently playing Major League Soccer while four others are in A-League ball. It was a group that featured players who had been fixtures in the starting lineup during the majority of their time at Washington. Wurzberger's task now is to mold his young group into a squad that has every opportunity to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
'We've had some stellar players here over the past few years,' Wurzberger says. 'Sometimes the tendency is to rely on those individuals to win games. It's going to be more of a team effort this year.
'Having said that, we think we've chosen well in terms of our incoming players,' he continued. 'We have every expectation that we will be just as successful as we have in years past, in making a run at the Pac-10 title and securing a postseason bid.
'Our staff is very motivated,' Wurzberger stresses. 'We have a chance to get back to some basic core values, in terms of the way we want to play and the things we want to emphasize. We are going to put a premium on process-oriented things like effort, conditioning, and teamwork. We're going to emphasize competition in practice. There will be a lot of people vying for spots and for playing time. We're excited about the atmosphere. I anticipate we will see a higher work rate by people in that they will be trying to prove themselves to get playing time. That is attractive to a coaching staff.'
The challenge of competition every day in practice will be tested right off the bat as the Huskies' goalkeeping chores could land in any number of capable hands. Chad Olsen, who manned the spot for much of the last two seasons, elected not to return after battling on-going injuries. Three men will battle for the spot, including two newcomers.
Junior Dan Waltman, who finished last season as the starter, is the capable incumbent. Challenging him will be Washington Gatorade Player of the Year Chris Eylander (Sumner, Wash.) who brings an impressive level of experience. Joining the mix is Ben Oakley, a transfer from Whitworth who helped lead his team to the Northwest Conference championship and the school's highest finish in the national tournament.
'Dan Waltman comes in with solid experience and we think Chris has all the potential in the world to be the next great goalkeeper out of our state,' Wurzberger states. 'He needs experience at the next level but he's got every chance of looking for some major minutes in his first year. Then add Ben, who had a solid year at Whitworth, and it sets up as a strong area for us.'
A pair of senior starters will set the tone on defense. Co-captain Aaron Heinzen (Yakima, Wash.) and Zac Tallman (Gig Harbor, Wash.) anchor a unit that has four freshmen and a sophomore vying for starting spots. Joe Birklid (Buckley, Wash.), who was a regular by the end of last season, seeks to maintain his position with a year of experience under his belt. The key ingredient is depth and Wurzberger will be looking for players who can provide an immediate contribution, replacing longtime standouts Bryn Ritchie and Billy Sleeth, the heart of the Husky defense the last four years.
'We feel good about our defense,' said Wurzberger, 'but it's going to be important these new defenders are able to contribute right away. We are confident they will.'
Newcomer Gavin Hobbs, (Vancouver, B.C.) projected as a right fullback, started school last January and was able to practice with the team for spring ball, giving him an edge on familiarity. Freshmen Kevin Murray (Sumner, Wash.) and Kenny Mueller (Snohomish, Wash.) will be understudies as central defenders for the future and could see time in their first year as a center-back combination. Seth Yates (Edmond, Okla.) is an unknown, but has a solid resume and could provide depth in the outside back positions and at left back in particular, as he plays with a dominant left foot.
The midfield should be Washington's strength this season, as the area with the most depth. A solid group returns, led by Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year C.J. Klaas (Cherry Valley, Ill.) who spent the summer playing with the U-20 National Team. Klaas, an exceptional talent as an underclassman and a co-captain this year, teams with junior Seth Marsh (Federal Way, Wash.) who heightened the offensive attack when he came on strong toward the end of last season. Senior Kyle Fukuchi (Haleiwa, Hawaii) could have is finest year yet as a fourth-year player who knows the system and can contribute valuable minutes, while Johnny Schefter enters his sophomore season ready to challenge for more playing time and junior Troy Ready returns from a redshirt season.
The strength of the returning players complements a highly regarded freshman class. Mike Chabala (Fresno, Calif.) earned adidas All-America honors and was recognized as one of the top 25 incoming freshmen in the 2002 class by Soccer America. The Huskies' coaching staff sees Chabala as a major contributor from the start. Evan Cummings (Spokane, Wash.) joined the team in January and was able to participate in spring practice, displaying his potential early and giving way to an easier adjustment in the Fall. Wurzberger points to Jeff Hoover (Kirkland, Wash.), Artie Bartholomew (Swarthmore, Pa.), who trained at the IMG Academy in Florida, and Mike Cusenza (Fresno, Calif.) as all having outstanding potential and the ability to quickly adapt to the college environment.
'The midfield is going to be critical to the success of our team,' Wurzberger indicated. 'It's an area we feel our recruiting has been the best in terms of players who have the potential to contribute right away. We are going to use more of our depth than in years past, because there is such level competition. We see a scenario where practically everyone on our squad is going to get playing time, at least early on until we settle on a rotation. The depth is going to serve us well down the stretch.'
Depth again could serve the Huskies well as the team searches for a player who can reach double figures in scoring this year. Four players return, including full-time starter Brett Wiesner (Brookfield, Wisc.), a sophomore who earned Pac-10 honorable mention recognition after his first season. Dayo Oyetuga brings senior leadership to the front while teaming with junior Jimmy Stark (Des Moines,Wash.) and sophomore Casey Armstrong (Kent, Wash.), two reserves who expect to compete for a more consistent role in 2002.
Joining that group is a pair of transfers, Patrick Tanner (Norman, Okla./Furman) and Sean Giudice (Davis, Calif./Fullerton) who were both starters and goal scorers on their previous teams.
'Goal scoring is something you can never emphasize enough,' Wurzberger says. 'The depth we're adding is going to help us with a punch up front. It remains to be seen which combination ends up playing. We're hoping to find a couple guys who can really be a threat, scoring double digit goals. That's something we haven't had in awhile. We want someone scoring 10 or more on their own.'
The Huskies have an opportunity to showcase their talent to the hometown fans with an attractive home schedule as they host perennial powers Santa Clara and Creighton and feature Marquette and 2000 NCAA champion Connecticut in the Husky Classic. The Pac-10, one of the nation's strongest conferences, brings marquee opponents to Husky Soccer Field when Stanford and UCLA visit. In addition, Fresno State has joined the Pac-10 in men's soccer this year, allowing the conference to field six teams and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. On the road, the Huskies meet Central Florida, DePaul, South Carolina and rival Portland along the way.
'It's going to be exciting,' Wurzberger says. 'The Pac-10 is always tough and this year we are bringing in top-level out-of-region teams. It's a great attraction for our fans and also shows the NCAA Committee that we are playing a quality schedule. That will help us down the road.'
Whatever the schedule, whether home or away, Washington, one of only seven schools in the nation to make seven consecutive NCAA appearances, has the tools it needs to challenge for the Pac-10 Conference championship and make a successful run in the NCAA Tournament.