By Alyssa Kerry
In the Heart of America quarter final, the Statesmen’s season ended in a double over time after a heartbreaking loss to MidAmerica Nazarene. The squad finished the season off with an 8-10-2 record, 4-7-1 in the Heart conference.
After a very successful season in 2015, with 4-6 in the Heart and an 8-10-1 record it was time for the Statesmen to prove that they were up for the competition and were a major contender. Though the squad suffered the loss of first team all-heart Angelo Kelly, four-time letter winner Ben Creegar, honorable-mention all-conference Sergio Carro and letter winner Max Stamer. The Statesmen still returned a large number of players and had notable newcomers as well such as freshman Tom Denat, freshman Joey Messina, sophomore Nenad Markovic and junior Bill Baye.
According to senior, Joni Cruz “the goal as a team this year was to beat the school’s winning record of 11 wins” something that the squad came just a little bit short of, but was no less a great season for the Statesmen.
In the season opener for the Statesmen they had a rough start to their season falling to Calumet-St. Joseph in a 4-2 non-conference loss. In a very physical game that had 35 fouls, with five yellow cards. The squad was outshot 19-13 by the competitors. Sophomore, Emannuel Esparza, recorded four saves against the four goals that were allowed through. But overall the game was a defensive struggle for the Statesmen.
After the first game of the season they found that they had a lot of individual errors that could have been prevented, they took this information and went back to work before they returned to the field against Hannibal-LaGrange.
Senior Jeremy Esparza said, “in previous years our team chemistry has been very high and this year our chemistry lacked, which showed on the game field” this was something that the team had to work a lot together on to improve on through-out the season.
Following the first non-conference loss of the season the squad was able to come back to take the W in a non-conference game against Hannibal-LaGrange. Even though the Statesmen were out shot 23-5, it was proven a statistic that didn’t reflect the 4-1 win. Freshman, Anfernee Houston made the first goal from a pass from senior Bill Baye. It was only the first goal for Houston who went on later in the game to get an assist from sophomore Nenad Markovic to score his second in his collegiate debut. Markovic received assists from both Houston and senior Jeremy Esparza to add two more goals for the squad.
Senior, Esparza said, “I feel like that as a team we gave our full efforts towards a positive result.”
Following a loss and a win for the squad, it was time to play in the Goshen Tournament. With four saves by Emannuel Esparza and Markovic’s seven shot attempts the Statesmen were able to come out of the game with a tie. Freshman, Joey Messina broke the scoreless tie off of a pass from Renato Firmento. Firmento was the graduate assistant for the program, but was awarded a final year of eligibility and chose to take advantage of it. At the 73d minute the leafs were able to tie up the game.
Being a senior, Cruz said, “it was just a matter of leaving everything on the field and leading by example” even when things were not going as well as they could be.
Holy Cross was able to come back from behind to beat the Statesmen after having an early lead. An early goal by Markovic off of a pass from freshman Tom Denat left the squad in a good positon in the game. It wasn’t until the 81st minute that Holy Cross was able to score. Tying it up 1-1 off of a penalty kick. The game went into overtime where the Saints were able to score in the extra time in just under five minutes.
In a non-conference game against current #7 Columbia sophomore Nenad Markovic was able to score both goals for the Statesmen to capture the 2-1 victory. Markovic started off the scoring for the game off of a pass from freshman Anfernee Houston, only for the Cougars to be able to come back to tie up the game. This forced the game into overtime. An assist from Cedric Petter to Markovic finished off the game. Emmannuel Esparza faced 16 shots and recorded three saves to help the Statesmen for the win. This game was believed to be the biggest win in school history, the previous high was against #12 Grand View in 2002.
Two freshmen scored the only goals of the game for the Statesmen on September 10th against St. Ambrose in a non-conference 2-0 victory. Combined with Emannuel Esparza picking up his first shutout of his career by stopping all four shots coming his way the Statesmen guided to an easy win.
After having a high level of success the Statesmen went on to face one of the toughest teams that they had faced thus far in the season, MidAmerica Nazarene. Losing 6-1, the Statesmen were outshot by 22-9. They scored their only goal of the game in the first four minutes and from that point on where unable to recover.
Chemistry was a constant trend for the Statesmen, the team which is comprised of students from all over the country has a large focus on creating a team atmosphere. Cruz said, “the best part of being on this team is the diversity we have and how we all get along regardless of where we come from.” But it is all a matter of getting to know each other and working together to have success.
Not for the lack of opportunities or control in the game, but the squad was just unable to take advantage of the chances that they had. Losing to Graceland in the conference match up 2-1. The Statesmen dominated the second half with a 12-3 shot advantage, which allowed senior Facundo Benitez to score an unassisted goal.
Now 0-2 in the Heart conference, the Statesmen went on to grab their first conference win of the season against Avila, in a 2-0 victory. After the half, Nenad Markovic broke the scoreless tie with a goal assisted by senior Ralph Duopu-Turner. Senior Joni Cruz added an unassisted goal, which was his first of the season.
September 28th was the big rival game against Grand View, where the Vikings were able to take control of the game, winning over the Statesmen 3-1. Both teams took the same number of shots at 15, but it was the visitors that were able to take advantage of their chances.
The NAIA released the first ratings on September 30th. The squad was ranked 126th out 192 teams.
The Statesmen overcame a 27-11 shot deficit to tie against #10 Baker in a conference game on October 1st. Nenad Markovic scored the only goal of the Statesmen to tie up the game in the second half of the game after spending the whole first half behind. Junior, Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra had save after save, with 16 in total. Pipes-Goulsbra who had previously played soccer the past two years had switched to football for the fall of 2016 but came out of retirement after Emannueal Esparza suffered an injury midseason.
Following the Baker game, Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra was named the Heart of America Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer Defensive player of the week. The 16 save tally was the largest in the programs history in the last ten years.
The squad claimed a 5-1 win over Clarke, guided by two goals from Facundo Benitez, two from freshman Juan Salazar. Nenad Markovic had three assist on the game and one goal from himself.
The squad suffered a 5-2 loss to Central Methodist on October 9th. Nenonad Markovic scored of goal off of a pass from Joni Cruz. Cruz later managed to score an unassisted goal. The Statesmen were outshot 25-10, but Pipes-Goulsbra posted seven saves in the goal. Just a few days later the Statesmen lost in a 3-2 double-overtime loss to Culver-Stockton. Tom Denat scored his first collegiate goal of his career off of a penalty kick which gave the Statesmen a 1-0 lead coming into half time. Joni Cruz then wen ton to turn the game to a 2-0 lead after scoring only a few minutes later. Culver-Stockton scored their first goal at the 80-minute mark and then again with a minute remaining in regulation to force it to overtime. Neither team was able to score in the first overtime, forcing it into a second. With 18 seconds left in the second overtime received a penalty kick that Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra blocked, but the ball came right back to bobcat player who shot it right into the net to capture the win.
The Statesmen went on to play Benedictine, even with the same amount of shot fired it was the Ravens that were able to come out on top in a 2-0 victory over the squad. After a couple of tough week for the team, the second set of ratings were released. The Statesmen had moved to 134th out of 191 teams.
In the highest scoring game of the season for the Statesmen, they won in a conference victory over Evangel 8-0. This win over the Crusaders locked the squad a spot in the league tournament. Joni Cruz scored the first goal of the game followed by Nenad Markovic just short of a minute later assisted by Tom Denat. D
enat also assisted a goal for Lewis Hubbard minutes later. Cedric Petter recorded his own unassisted goal, followed by a double assisted goalf from Steve Lee and Joey Messina to Emmanuel Morris. Joni Cruz went on to have back to back goals. This was the first hat trick of the season. With an assist from Edson Bangall, Steve Lee scored the final goal of the season. The eight goals, was the third most scored in school history and best since 2006. Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra recorded three saves for a shutout.
Following the Evangel shutdown by Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra, he was named the Heart of America Athletic Conference Men’s Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. The shutout was the first of his career.
The Statesmen won a 3-1 conference game against Mount Mercy. Joni Cruz scored the first goal of the game just seconds after it started, and later gave an assist to Markovic. Markovic later scored his second goal off of an assist from freshman Joey Messina. Caleb Pipes-Goulsbra had eight saves in the victory.
October 29th was senior night for the Statesmen as they just fee short in a 2-1 loss to Missouri Valley. The squad was outshot by the Vikings. There were eight seniors recognized prior to the game: Renato Firmento, Bill Baye, Gmoh Kanneh, Ralph Doupu-Turner, Bruno Vencovsky, Jeremy Esparza, Joni Cruz and Facundo Benitez.
Nenad Markovic was honored for one of the best offensive campaigns in the school’s history when the Heart of America Athletic Conference Men’s Soccer Postseason Team was announced. Markovic was named onto the first team. Markovic also was awarded the Hearts Freshman of the Year laurel. Throughout the season Markovic had 14 goals, and five assists.
In the play-in game against Culver-Stockton the Statesmen were able to get a little bit of revenge winning 3-2, after losing to them in double overtime earlier in the season. With this win it advanced the squad to the quarterfinals. Freshman, Teddy Edlund finished off a pass from Joey Messina in the first few minutes of the game to start the squads lead. Later in the game sophomore Jack Kindell-Brown sent in a corner kick that was redirected into the box was finished off by Lewis Hubbard. Markovic scored his 15th goal of the season off of a penalty kick later in the game.
The squad’s season ended in a double overtime 1-0 loss to MidAmerica Nazarene in the Quarterfinals on November 5th. They were outshot throughout the whole game 25-4, after having a scoreless regulation it forced the game into overtime. In the first overtime, it remained scoreless forcing it into a second overtime. With 12 seconds left in the second overtime MidAmerica Nazarene was able score, ending the season for the Statesmen.
Two Statesmen were awarded for their efforts in the classroom, Emannuel Esparza and Santiago Goytia Zamora. Esparza had a 3.53 GPA and Goytia Zamora had a 3.63 GPA. They were among 423 men’s soccer players to be awarded the laurel.
Esparza said,” in my opinion the team is in a much better place than it was when I began my career at WPU. As a senior, I was given a leadership role in which I had a big responsibility and now that I am graduating I hope that my teammates will fulfill that position.”