Mesa men's soccer team hopes last year's growth continues
A young Colorado Mesa University men’s soccer team nearly made the RMAC tournament last year.
With one more year of experience, the Mavericks look to make it into the tournament and possibly beyond this year.
“We’re still a pretty young team,” senior fullback Jeremy Gwerder said. “I think from last year, we’ve learned a lot. Hopefully we’ll come out and be more productive than last year.”
The Mavericks (5-12-1, 5-9 RMAC last year) won four of seven games to get in the hunt for an RMAC tournament spot, but they lost their final two games of the season and did not get a berth.
CMU has 15 returning players from last year’s team and added several college transfers, but the Mavericks are picked by the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference coaches to finish seventh again.
“We definitely have something to prove,” CMU coach Josh Pittman said. “I think (the preseason poll is) justified. We haven’t proven anything yet. We’ll put it up on our bulletin board and hope to use it to our advantage.”
Mesa is young again, with four seniors on the roster, but Pittman believes last year’s experience will be valuable.
“I like this group a lot,” Pittman said. “We were pretty young last year. Now all those young guys have a year under their belt. You can see that experience is definitely helping.”
Gwerder believes the Mavericks can sneak into the playoffs this year.
“That’s the ultimate goal is to do well in the RMAC and make the RMAC tournament, then go from there,” he said.
Gwerder transferred to Mesa from the University of Hawaii-Hilo last year. He played in 15 games, scored one goal and had three assists for the Mavericks. He was a third-team All-RMAC pick.
“I sent some emails around, and Coach (Pittman) emailed me back,” Gwerder said. “I like the school better here and the sun. I’m from Washington. The sun’s out. That’s all that matters.”
Gwerder is one of 12 returning players with at least a handful of starts and one of six with 10 or more starts.
Other returning regular starters include sophomore forward Stevie Palma, junior forward Stan Schrock, sophomore defender Phil Neuwirth, junior forward Marco Escobar and sophomore goalkeeper Micah Conrads.
Junior Skylar Roy, who missed last season with a knee injury, will replace all-region player Bashiru Ali at the center fullback position. Ali graduated.
Pittman added 10 players, five of whom he believes will play significant roles this season.
Junior transfers Patrick Wall (Alabama-Birmingham), Gavin Lafollette (Northwest College in Wyoming) and Carlos Villa (Phoenix College) will play in the midfield/forward positions.
“Those three give us a different look dynamically,” Pittman said. “They’re three older players that will help with what we’re trying to do.”
The other newcomers are Escobar’s brothers, freshmen midfielders Nestor Escobar and Kevin Escobar.
“Marco (Escobar) is one of our best players,” Pittman said. “His two younger brothers (Nestor and Kevin) are two players we’ll see (get time). We played them (in a scrimmage) against DU, and they were the only two freshmen that played. They’re very dynamic and skillful. You put all three of them on the field together, and they think and move alike.”
With the Escobar brothers and forwards Palma, Schrock, Brandon Burton and Alan Hernandez, Pittman is confident the Mavericks can score.
“I expect big things from these guys,” Pittman said. “We need to start scoring some goals.”
He is confident in the defense as well with Conrads and Caleb Ealey back in net.
“Micah and Caleb will battle for the starting position,” Pittman said. “They got a lot of experience last year. We’re excited for the goalkeeper situation.”
CMU opens the season Saturday against Cal State-San Bernardino in St. George, Utah. The Mavericks’ home opener is Sept. 14 against defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Fort Lewis College.
“Our conference is so strong, it’s ridiculous,” Pittman said. “I think every team has improved. Fort Lewis and the (Colorado) School of Mines will be the two teams pushing to get into the NCAA tournament. Then I think it’s a crapshoot for the next six, seven teams.”