Seeking a second straight North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) Tournament championship match appearance, the Waldorf University men’s soccer team looks to bring home the hardware this season.
“Expectations are high for our team this year,” Waldorf coach Edgar Gonzaga said. “Our schedule is a lot stronger than before, but we expect our boys to go out and compete in every single game.”
With the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) joining the Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) in soccer, the conference tournament champion will earn an automatic bid to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship. Targeting another strong season, the Warriors are shooting for a run to nationals.
“Obviously, having our soccer conference join the A.I.I. in conference play is massive,” said Gonzaga, who enters his first season as head coach after serving as Waldorf’s assistant coach the past two years. “Our goal is to get down to Georgia and make an appearance in the national tournament down in Florida.”
The Warriors closed out last year with a 12-6-1 record to establish the most wins since becoming a four-year program. They posted a 2-1-1 mark in NSAA play to earn the No. 2 seed in the NSAA Tournament for the second straight season and advanced to the title match, which was Waldorf’s first conference championship appearance since becoming an NAIA institution. The historic season came to a close in a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Bellevue University during the NSAA Tournament title match.
Waldorf’s 2016 campaign included a five-match winning streak, the longest as a four-year program. The Warriors amassed 63 goals, 37 assists and averaged 3.32 goals per match to set new school records in each category. Waldorf ranked first in the nation with 25.16 shots per match and was second while averaging 11.79 shots on goal. The Warriors finished 14th in the country in goals per match and 15th in total goals. On the defensive end, Waldorf’s goalkeepers ranked second in school single-season history with six shutouts and a 1.26 goals against average (GAA). The Warriors also notched three single-match school records, totaling 43 points off 16 goals and 11 assists in a 16-0 victory over Grace University.
Riley Gibson, Cameron Saul and Jacob Harris return for the Warriors after earning first-team all-conference honors from the NSAA last season. Seniors Jean Bonnin and Oscar Valencia were named second-team all-conference selections.
Gibson delivered 12 points in his Waldorf debut last year as the senior forward from Lehi, Utah provided five goals and two assists.
Saul, a junior midfielder from London, registered three goals and an assist. He spent the summer months competing for the Asheville City Soccer Club (ACSC) in North Carolina.
“Cameron is a great returner,” Gonzaga said. “Playing over the summer helped massively and I know he will play a major role on our team this year with the great leadership he has carried since arrival.”
Harris added a goal as the senior from Paraparaumu, New Zealand played a key defensive role for the Warriors.
“Jacob is another great returner that we are looking forward to having back,” Gonzaga said. “Our backline will learn a lot from him and we expect him to make a great impact.”
Bonnin finished the season as Waldorf’s second-leading scorer, recording 17 points with seven goals and three assists. Valencia, who’s also a member of the backfield, made 16 starts last season.
Senior Erik Soares is among a strong nucleus of returners, following a season in which he tallied 13 points behind four goals and five assists. Thirteen returners who saw action last year include senior midfielders David Alvarez, Omar Aguilar, Jose Rincon, Marco Collina, senior defender Conner Schmidt, junior defenders Victor Leao, Damon Dennis, junior midfielder Rodrigo Freitas, sophomore midfielder Anthony Henvey, sophomore defenders Ian Kramer, Sebico Gray, Athos Monteiro and sophomore forward Bruno Barbosa. Redshirt junior Jose Beltran will make his debut as a forward this season.
“We have a lot of players that played lots of minutes last year, along with a lot of seniors on our roster who will help strengthen our team,” Gonzaga said. “We are looking for them to bring strong leadership on and off the field.”
The Warriors have added two junior goalkeepers this year. Corey Stephens joins Waldorf after previously playing at Young Harris College and Mario Juarez is a transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College.
“Our incoming goalkeepers will be a great addition to our program,” Gonzaga said. “We expect them to command the backline as both work extremely hard in between the posts.”
Four other transfers aim to strengthen the Warriors’ roster. Jonathan Guzman is a senior midfielder and NCAA Division II transfer from Northeastern State University. Senior Jordan Robertson, who’s also an NCAA Division II transfer from St. Mary’s University (Texas) will aid the defense. Midfielder Howard Sturgeon is a junior transfer from Scottsdale Community College while junior midfielder Barema Samassekou comes to the team after playing at Iowa Western Community College last year.
“We have also added players that can push us to the next level and make a strong run throughout the season,” Gonzaga said.
The Warriors open the 2017 campaign this Sunday, taking on Dakota Wesleyan University in a 5:30 p.m. contest at Mitchell, S.D. Waldorf has shut down the Tigers with 3-0 victories in the past two meetings. Dakota Wesleyan ended last season with a 3-13 record and placed ninth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) with a 2-7 mark. Things have looked promising for the Warriors during preseason training camp.
“We have been working hard these past few weeks having two-a-day practices and feeling comfortable in our style of play,” Gonzaga said. “We look forward to the weekend as it will be our first game of the season. We know that every game is important and each player has an understanding of what it will take to come back with a win. I’m excited to have the boys back on the field come Sunday.”
The Warriors square off against defending NAIA national champion Hastings College on Aug. 26 at Hastings, Neb. Hastings, which enters the year ranked No. 1 in the NAIA preseason poll, rolled to a 24-0-1 record last season.
Waldorf hosts William Penn University in its home opener on Aug. 29 in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Bolstorff Field.
The Warriors begin NSAA play on Oct. 7 when they travel to Aberdeen, S.D. to face Presentation College.
Entering the season, Waldorf is taking a steady approach to pursue its goals.
“We will focus one game at a time,” Gonzaga said. “We have a lot of goals in mind. However, we want to get back to competing for the regular-season conference title, get back to the conference finals and reach the national tournament. Our group of guys is special with a lot of seniors on our team and we expect them to play their hearts out every single game.”