As it usually does in soccer, Creighton’s 2011 men’s soccer season came down to inches. The Jays were one game away, a few penalty kicks actually, from playing for a national title in coach Elmar Bolowich’s first season when Charlotte crashed the party. The 49ers outlasted Creighton, robbing college soccer fans of the match-up everybody waned to see. Bolowich didn’t get to face North Carolina, the powerhouse program he somewhat surprisingly left behind to come to Omaha. The Tarheels went on to win the national title. Creighton went home.
The Jays lost seven starters off that 21-2-1 team, including perhaps the most potent combo in the country in midfielder Ethan Finlay and goalkeeper Brian Holt. With so many question marks surrounding the 2012 squad, few would blame Jays fans for tempering their expectations. Coach Bolowich does not count himself among the few.
“The expectation cannot be lower,” he says. “That just has to be there. The guys have to play their roles and grow up quickly.”
Despite the losses, the college soccer community is still bullish on Creighton’s chances. The Jays opened the season at No. 3 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings and moved up to No. 2 following their season-opening win over Northern Illinois. Creighton won’t have long to figure out how all the new parts fit. The first eight teams on the Jays’ schedule all went to the NCAA Tournament last year and national powers like Akron, Rutgers, and Old Dominion will all visit Omaha before September is over.
“(The schedule) is very heavy, but I like it that way,” Bolowich says. “With the kind of turnover we had it’s a little bit of over-scheduling but it’s good because it makes you grow up fast.”
The one place where Creighton does have experience is in the midfield. Seniors Jose Gomez and Andrew Ribeiro and junior Bruno Castro all made the preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference team. The three will be looked upon to not just lead the team but also help replace the 14 goals Finlay tallied last year.
Defensively the Jays will be lead by sophomore Eric Miller. He spent his summer playing with the U.S. under-20 national team and also earned All-MVC preseason honors. Seniors Jake Brown and Brent Kallman are big, physical defenders who will see plenty of time as well.
The biggest question for Creighton is not just who’s scoring the goals, but who’s stopping them. With All-American Brian Holt in goal, the Jays rang up 19 shutouts last season and gave up just five goals all year. There are two top contenders to replace Holt in sophomore Alex Bolowich, the coach’s son, and redshirt freshman Jeff Gal. Gal played the full 90 minutes in the opener against UNI, recording two saves and giving up one goal.
While the returning midfielders will be relied upon heavily to bolster Creighton’s attack, the Jays have a few intriguing new options up front. Junior transfer Sean Kim led the team in the opener with six shots and scored twice. True freshman Timo Pitter, a native of Germany, was a force in that game as well, tallying five shots while junior North Carolina-transfer Carlos McCrary picked up a goal against UNI in only 29 minutes of play.
Which is the bigger concern, the goals scored or the goals allowed?
“Both are very hard to replace,” Bolowich says. “(Finlay and Holt) were two All-Americans. That’s hard to come by. This year will be a weight distribution, so to speak, where everybody will have to contribute.”
Having star players is nice, but special seasons frequently come from unexpected places. With the No. 2 national ranking after the season’s first week the Jays are well placed to make another run at the College Cup.
“Our goal is to win it this time,” Gomez says. “We’ll do whatever we can to do it.”
The dream match-up from last year isn’t out of the question either. North Carolina was the one team ranked ahead of Creighton last week.
Creighton’s next home game is Sept. 14 at 7:30 pm against Old Dominion. For ticket information, visit gocreighton.com
2012 SEASON PREVIEW
2011 Record: 9-6-3
Next home game: Sept. 13 vs. UMKC, 7 pm
Preseason conference rank: 3rd in the Missouri Valley Conference
Head coach Bruce Erickson said he felt his team underachieved last year, losing in the first round of the MVC tournament. Much like the men, Creighton is relatively young team with 11 new players in 2012. Top-scorer and preseason All-MVC selection Brittney Neumann is back while transfer Kelsey O’Donnell was one of the most impressive players in fall camp according to Erickson. “I think we can contend for the Valley title, but we’re short on experience,” Erickson said.
2011 Record: 1-11-1
Next home game: Sept. 9 vs. Seattle, 5 pm
Preseason conference rank: 8th in the Summit League
Head coach Jason Mims faces a unique challenge in building an entirely new program while facing Division I opponents right from the start. “None of our goals involve winning directly,” he says. “We have some things that, if we can take care of them, will win games but we’re more worried about our player development right now.” Sophomore midfielder Joe Marinkovich is back off a solid freshman season while classmate Vance Rookwood was named the Summit League player of the week last week following UNO’s 4-0 win over Bellevue.
2011 Record: 5-7-2
Next home game: Sept. 7 vs. Creighton, 5:30 pm
Preseason conference rank: 8th in the Summit League
The UNO women’s team has fared a little better in its transition to Division I athletics thanks to having a strong program in place before the move. “We’ve started to figure out how this works,” head coach Don Klosterman says. “They’ve had a year to learn the competition and understand the level they need to play at. I expect this to be a lot smoother season.” The Mavs landed a pair of players on the preseason all-conference second team in senior forward Danielle Archuleta and junior defender Kerry Pivovar.