By Tim Alford
The OWU men’s soccer team will be heading into this season as defending National Champions with a different group of players ready to step up.
Last season, OWU went 23-2 and won the National Championship.
Their only losses came in the beginning of the season to Messiah College and in the NCAC tournament to DePauw University. Even with the loss of some key players, the team will look to continue their success from last year.
Senior Paul Hendricks, a goalkeeper and captain of the team, said OWU always has a target on its back and teams treat every game against OWU like a playoff game.
“This year is going to be a bigger challenge because we’re going to get everyone’s best game considering we’re defending National Champions and ranked number one in the preseason polls,” Hendricks said.
“The biggest challenge is our target and bull’s-eye is bigger than ever,” assistant coach Brandon Bianco said.
Aside from the bull’s-eye, OWU has the challenge of replacing a large graduating class.
Senior Kit North, a defender and captain of the team, said the team lost seven players to graduation and three of them made up the top goal scorers from last season.
“Clearly, we lost a lot of talent,” North said. “Having said that, we have a very talented group of guys returning for this season.”
Coach Jay Martin, who is entering into his 36th season with OWU, said this year’s junior class in particular needs to step up and be leaders.
“You don’t win National Championships without good seniors,” Martin said. “It’s hard for juniors because they don’t think it is their time.”
“We have a big junior class that has been playing more role positions,” Bianco said. “Now, their responsibilities are to take on a bigger role. This team must find its own personality because it is a different team than last year.”
Even with a small senior class, Bianco said the team has been fortunate because the expectations have always been high.
“The players choose the goals they want to set every year,” he said. “It’s a talented and motivated group.”
“Personally, with this being my last season, I just want to have as much fun and enjoy every practice and moment with my teammates,” Hendricks said. “You might find this surprising, but we didn’t set a team goal this year or last year to win the National Championship.
“Our philosophy is that if we follow the process by achieving our smaller goals and doing the little things both on and off the field, the rest will take care of itself.”
“We go about our business just as we always have,” North said. “We want to win every game at Roy Rike, take care of the conference title, and get into the NCAA tournament.”
Four games into the season, OWU’s record stands at 2-1-1. Bianco said some of the big games for the season are home against Ohio Northern University on Sept. 19, home against Case Western Reserve University on Sept. 26, home against DePauw University on Oct. 6, and the last regular season home game against Denison University on Oct. 26.