BY JERAMY STOVER, Staff Columnist
At this time last year, the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s soccer team was scratching their heads. They were off to a 0-6 start, dropped their first two conference games, and had been shut out three times during the stretch.
Fast forward to this year and the wind is blowing in a much different direction. The Wolverines are 3-3, and have shut out their opponents in their three wins.
When conference play started last year, they were still searching for their first win. With only conference games the rest of the way, it’s the confidence this team has from its early success that sets it apart from last season.
“(The team) is used to winning, they’re used to scoring goals, they’re used to holding leads, which we never got to practice in a formal environment last year because we never had the lead, we were never defending a lead,” head coach Matt Quirk said. “How do you get good at it if you never practice it? So (we’re) very confident.”
And there is good reason to be.
Through six games last year, the Wolverines had scored just four goals and had given up 24. This year, they have scored 16 goals and have only given up eight.
Heck, there is even one player on the team who has more goals so far this year than the entire team scored at the same point last year. Sophomore Richard Hodnicki has five goals on the season, which includes a hat trick he scored in the conference opener against Concordia.
After scoring four goals in his freshman campaign, Hodnicki worked on two key elements over the offseason that is making him a dangerous threat when he has the ball.
“I’ve worked on my finishing and being composed in front of (the) goal,” he explained.
But it’s not just the offense that is propelling this team to new heights.
Junior goalkeeper Aaron Johnson had a 158 minute shutout streak going that was eventually snapped against Rochester on Sept. 22. He and Junior Erick Beas have combined in allowing opponents to score one and a half goals per game, a much improved stat from last season.
Johnson’s play this year has certainly been noticed. In fact, he was just recently named the player of the week among the entire Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference. The rest of the team’s confidence level in the junior goalkeeper are soaring after his strong start.
“AJ is a class goalkeeper and I think that as a team we all have a lot of confidence in his ability,” sophomore midfielder Brody Hall said. “On any given day we can believe I’m getting clean sheets against any team.”
“Our team bonding this year, in my opinion, is better than last,” Hall said. “We returned a lot of older players, so in general we have a lot of good leadership as well as a relatively strong group of freshmen.”
The strong bond of this team has made practices even better. It has allowed the guys to push each other and even criticize each other in an efficient way.
“We work a lot on pushing ourselves in training,” Hodnicki said, “making your teammate better by giving constructive criticism and being competitive in our scrimmages.”
With a couple of nationally ranked teams in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, making it to the top is no easy task. But as the season is unfolding in front of us, the Wolverines are showing they may just be ready to go toe-to-toe with the best in their league.
“Being 1-0 in conference is a big confidence boost considering how strong the WHAC is,” Hall said. “However, I don’t think we’re sitting on anything. We’re still hungry for wins and know it’s a tough task.”