AZUSA, Calif.-- The Azusa Pacific men’s soccer program knows it’s going to be different this season, just don’t expect the team to change its ways just yet. In 2013 the Cougar soccer season will be unlike any in the school’s storied past. The conference will be different. Say goodbye to the Golden State Athletic Association and say hello to NCAA Div. II’s Pacific West Conference. The competition will be tougher, and the travel will be ore exhaustive. Heck, even home games will have a somewhat foreign feel as the Cougar Soccer Complex can now host night-time matches for the first time. But even amid the various changes, head coach David Blomquist and his program are determined to hold strong to what’s made Azusa Pacific soccer so successful for the past few decades.
“Heading into the season we understand there is going to be a lot of unknown. New teams, new places...so that in itself will present a lot of challenges,” said Blomquist, who enters his fourth year at the helm. “But whether it’s a team we’ve never played, or a brand new place it won’t change the way we play. There is a certain standard for Azusa Pacific soccer and we want to hold that standard no matter what. Even with all of the things that are new , none of them will change what we’re doing on the field. Whether in the quality of our play or the way we want to represent the university.”
The Cougars, who are fresh off an NAIA tournament second round appearance, have a bit of turnover from last year’s roster. The team loses three starters in All-GSAC defender, Lucas Young, the vocal leader of the backline, Robert James, and Nathan Nienhuis’ five goals and four assists. Coming back, however, are four 2011All-GSAC performers, including the team’s leader in points, assists, and goals from last year in Oktay Bulut. The team also picked up 10 recruits in the offseason, infusing an already talented lineup with a group of hungry newcomers.
Strength In The Middle
The Azusa Pacific midfield will undoubtedly be a key spot for the Cougars. Bulut will be transitioning from forward to midfielder, joining seniors Trenton Titus and Michael Sahagian as the vital pieces in the second third. Titus, a 2011 all-conference pick, has already put together an impressive collegiate resume, entering the season as a three-year starter. Alongside him is Sahagian, who has one of the most important roles on the team, while Bulut’s passing ability makes him the ideal center mid.
“Coming into the season with Michael, Trenton, and Oktay in the middle is great for us. It’s the core of the team. Those players are the most experienced...they’ve been in the program the longest. Trenton has continued to improve and mature every year. I expect this to be his best season yet. Michael in a lot of ways is the cog. Everything revolves around what he does. His role is vital; to both what we do in the attack and in defending. I think his passing ability and how he helps us change the point of attack will be one of the things that make us dangerous,” said Blomquist. “And then you have Oktay. He’s a great passer and helps dictate the play. It’s a good move for him and what he does. He’s a great finisher, and he’ll still have those opportunities.”
The talent, however, doesn’t end there. Steven Shiokari will see a lot of action, and with his move to the middle has played as well as ever in his career. Add him to newcomer Luke Ackermann and the Cougars aren’t only deep, but strong as well.
“Shiokari has moved into a new role and has performed at the highest level he has since he arrived. And Ackermann is another player that will add a ton to some of the team’s ability to really have different players make an impact in the centermid,” said Blomquist. “If we have a tough week of games and multiple matches in a short span, the ability to use different players because of our quality is really great. We can change some of the 11 out and we’re still strong.”
Geletko and Co.
In 2011 keeper Joe Geletko had a banner year. The Twenty Nine Palms native registered nine shutouts en route to a spot on the All-GSAC team. He started all 20 of the Cougars’ matches, and played every single minute in goal for Azusa Pacific. The senior also posted four consecutive shutouts, and provided the team with one of the season’s most memorable highlights when he blocked two penalty kicks against Hope International to advance the Cougars to the semifinals of the GSAC tournament.
In 2012 he enters the season as the incumbent, but with the amount of quality at the goalkeeper position, he will be hard pressed to repeat his 2011 achievement of playing every minute between the posts. Entering as the No. 2 keeper is Chip Cox, who should challenge Geletko for time. And then you have Jeff Dunn and Scott Kinney who have each made strides during fall camp.
“Jeff and Scott are pushing Joe and Chip. We have a unique situation in that we have a lot of depth. They compete every day, but encourage each other as well. They want to rise to the top, but they want the team to do well,” said Blomquist. “With Joe coming back the other guys are pushing him. I think all four of them are better now than they were in the spring, and were better in the spring than they were in the fall. Joe doesn’t let down because he’s no. 1, and the other guys don’t get discouraged because they aren’t. It’s a great situation.”
Cox played in three matches as a freshman in 2010, where he posted a shutout in his only start while holding opponents scoreless in 211 minutes. Kinney appeared in one game in 2010, also holding opponents without a goal.
Carlos Garcia Partida was nothing short of impressive as a freshman in 2011. The striker from Reno, Nev. Was named to the All-GSAC team after tallying five game-winning goals and posting 17 points. In 2012 he will be the team’s biggest weapon up front, and with a solid fall camp under his belt, is expected to have an even better season than he did a year ago.
“Carlos had a very impressive freshman year. We expect the same and more from him. He’s gotten stronger in the offseason, so I think he’s ready to even impact more. He’s such a silky smooth player and most of what he does seems effortless,” said Blomquist.
Jeremy Bishop played in only 13 matches due to an injury, but managed to score six goals in 10 starts as a sophomore. He finished third on the team with 15 points, and was big in the clutch, notching the equalizer in the 88th minute against Biola and scoring the game-winner against Hope International. This season he came into camp fully healthy, looking better than ever.
“In a lot of ways Jeremy is the most dynamic attacking player in terms of what he does with the ball at his feet. He can score goals and get assists. I think when Jeremy is seeing the ball a lot then we’re at our best,” said Blomquist.
Joining the attack will be freshmen Keenan Armbrust, who has adapted quickly to the Cougars’ system of play, and Daniel Stratton. Leonardo Grigg is returning for his second year in the program, and according to Blomquist is ready for a breakout season.
“Leo makes so much happen when he’s on the field. When we bring him in in the game is pace and creativity can really change the game. With him, Daniel, and Keenan we have a lot of young quality that will help us in the final third,” he said.
The depth up front doesn’t end there as Kevin Yang leads the group as the lone senior. In 2011 he scored one goal and tallied one assist off the bench, and is likely to improve on those numbers in 2012.
A defender is the least recognized position in soccer, but that hardly relates to how important a role it is. Last year Garrett Mehrguth and John Tribbey combined to start 38 matches for a defense that posted nine shutouts. The two outside backs were mainstays for a defense that held opponents to just 0.86 goals per game. This season they’ll be relied upon as the leaders of the backline. Mehrguth is in his third season with the program, and has played in 38 games in his first two seasons with the team. Tribbey joined the squad last season, and was one of just three position players to start in all 20 games in 2012.
Joining them in the central defense will likely be Hiroshi Metzker and Tanner Akol. Metzker has plenty of playing time under his belt, entering his senior season with 42 career games played. Akol, however, is a little more green. The freshman defender, who has been impressive since day one of camp, could contend for a starting spot. That is if fellow freshman Cole Lambert doesn’t beat him out for it.
“We have some really good fits in the players that will be fighting for minutes. Jamarko has moved to right back and has some great depth at that position. Markham had a position change in the spring to central defender and played well in that spot. And then Cole Lambert could do a lot for the team’s depth and quality at the central defense,” said Blomquist.
A Look At The Schedule
On Thurs. Aug. 30 Azusa Pacific kicks off its season on the road against a perennially tough Cal State Dominguez Hills team that received votes in the initial National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. Following that match will be the long-awaited home opener under the lights against Biola on Sat. Sept. 1.
The non-conference challenge continues on the road at No. 9 ranked Simon Fraser (B.C.) before the Cougars play in their first Pacific West Conference match against Academy of Art University on Sept. 13. Azusa Pacific returns home for a tough contest with California Baptist on Sept. 21, just prior to a two-game road swing at Point Loma and Grand Canyon (Ariz.).
The team’s longest home stretch of the season kicks off with Hawaii Pacific on Oct. 4, following with games against Holy Names, Chaminade (Hawaii), and BYU-Hawaii. On Oct. 18 the Cougars travel north to face off with a Fresno Pacific team that narrowly beat out Azusa Pacific for the GSAC title in 2011. The regular season ends with a road and home double dip with Dixie State (Utah). The Cougars and the Red Storm will play in Azusa on Oct. 27 and then again in St. George, Utah on Nov. 3.
Azusa Pacific rejoined the National Christian College Athletic Association in 2011, making the Cougars eligible for postseason play in 2012 and 2013 while the school transitions towards full membership of NCAA Div. II. The NCCAA tournament has a region format, meaning that if the Cougars want to advance to the championships in Kissimmee, Fla. They’ll have to get past a tough West Region. The team’s top contenders in the region are fellow PacWest foes California Baptist, Point Loma, and Fresno Pacific. If Azusa Pacific can get through then they would advance to the championships, which run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 1.
Oktay Bulut: 2011- All-GSAC
Trenton Titus: 2011- All-GSAC
Joe Geletko: 2011- All-GSAC
Carlos Garcia Partida: 2011 All-GSAC