WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Grace College’s men’s soccer team celebrated its 50th year in style last season, enjoying a 14-7-3 record and a trip to NCCAA Nationals.
But head coach Matt Hotchkin maintains that the success of 2015 was both a reward and a curse.
The Lancers may have surprised a lot of people last year—”even ourselves,” as Hotchkin noted. So playing with a target on their back will be a new challenge for Grace in 2016.
“Last year’s success gave us experience at the national tournament level, which is invaluable,” Hotchkin said. “But there’s a lot of effort needed to maintain that level of higher expectations that we’ve brought to ourselves. But I know our guys are up for the challenge.”
The Lancers return a number of key players, including three seniors who have begun to step into leadership roles—Jon Sands, Jon Christensen and Thomas Tydeman. The trio understand the demand that’s placed on them as senior leaders, according to Hotchkin, and “have high expectations for themselves and what they want to accomplish before they leave.”
Damon Binkley and Dominic Harris also return and are poised to be key in Grace’s attack. The duo combined for 12 goals and six assists last year. They bring speed and ingenuity to the Lancers’ front line and can score from a variety of angles.
The Lancers have been traditionally strong in the midfield under Hotchkin’s coaching. The center was patrolled in 2015 by Colin Cape and Daniel Smith, who was a First Team All-Crossroads League performer.
The midfield play will need to be consistent in performance and in sacrifice if Grace is to reach its potential, according to Hotchkin. The team’s devotional focus this year will be on Romans, particularly with a focus on service and sacrifice.
“We still have some unknowns in the midfield, but one thing we absolutely know is that guys need to sacrifice for each other in the middle,” he mentioned.
A number of newcomers will also vie for playing time in the middle, including freshmen Gabriel Osti,Breno Oliveira, Cody Boerema and Henrique Cerruti. Brayton Taylor can also play in the middle or on defense.
Osti, Oliveira and Cerruti all hail from Brazil. The trio is adjusting to life and soccer in the US, but the group has shown flashes of brilliance during preseason.
Taylor (NorthWood HS) and Boerema (Cuyahoga Valley Christian, Ohio) provide a strong, athletic presence and figure to earn time in their freshman campaigns.
Barnhill earned NCCAA All-American status as the Lancers’ primary goalkeeper in 2015. But the starting job will “be a battle” this year in training camp, in Hotchkin’s words, because Hamlin has improved tremendously in the offseason.
Overall, the Lancers will count on several new faces to drive Grace this year. But the team’s mindset will not change from last year, according to Hotchkin. The Lancers will focus on one game at a time and seek to improve as a team every week in practice.
“We are untested as a team right now. We’re going to be counting on some guys who didn’t play a lot last year to have some big roles this year,” Hotchkin said. “Trusting each other and relying on each other to play in confidence will be key for us this year.”
The Lancers will started their season on Saturday with a road trip to Savannah College of Art and Design. (See Men’s Soccer opens season with dramatic OT win for a report of the game.) Grace’s home opener is Aug. 27 against Ohio Christian.