Mavs build with local talent

7 former D51 players on men's soccer roster

Colorado Mesa University Men’s soccer coach Josh Pittman works out with his twam at Wlaker Field.



Colorado Mesa University goal keeper Micah Conrads makes a save at Walker Field.



QUICKREAD

Key Returning Players

Marco Escobar, sr., F — All-RMAC forward scored four goals and had three assists last season.

Phil Neuwirth, jr., D/MF — Part of RMAC’s best defense (0.89 goals-against average).

Micah Conrads, jr., GK — All-RMAC goalie had a 0.94 goals-against average and a .754 save percentage with seven shutouts.

Blake Carlson, soph., D — Center fullback doesn’t let much get past his 6-foot-5 frame.

Nestor Escobar, soph., MF — Third-team All-RMAC pick led Mesa with six assists last season.



Beat Fort Lewis, the NCAA Division II national champion twice in the past four seasons, for the first time in program history. Check.

Notched a program-record nine shutouts during the 2012 season. Check.

In a way, the evolution of the Colorado Mesa University men’s soccer team reflects the Grand Valley soccer scene as a whole, and many local players have helped the program reach major milestones on the proverbial checklist.

Soccer has grown on the Western Slope, and the quality of players is evidenced on the CMU roster, which includes seven former District 51 players. Goalie Caleb Ealey, midfielders Ethan Johnson and Tim Hofer, forwards Stevie Palma, Sean Foster and Cory Rhodes, and the newest addition, midfielder Spencer Jackson, are part of the homegrown evolution at CMU.

And it has been a slow growing process, as the Mavericks still seek their first postseason win in the program’s six-year history.

But 2012 was the third time the Mavericks had a winning record and the second time they’ve qualified for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs. Coach Josh Pittman said that was a good start, and returning a majority of the squad will help build tradition. Pittman also said two transfers and four freshmen might contribute this season.

“We have most of our starters from last year along with a deep bench,” Pittman said. “All our guys from last year will be competing for starting time, and the new additions will just add to our depth.”

CMU historically has possessed the ball well, moving it side-to-side in the midfield. It’s something that has kept the defense fresh, and made opponents work hard. But at times during the 2012 season, Pittman said, the indirect style was a detriment to the offense.

“We’re just trying to be more efficient with how we play, whether it’s direct or indirect,” Pittman said. “It’s something we worked on all spring. We want to get the ball and be more efficient in the final third, and we want to create more goal-scoring opportunities.”

Junior defender Phil Neuwirth said the team is focused on finishing opportunities near the goal, particularly to reach the team’s goal of a plus-20 goal differential.

“We know our goal, and a lot of what we’ve been working on this spring, even on defense, is helping everyone reach that goal,” Neuwirth said.

Pittman said the best way to spur the offense is to set basic goals.

“If we make that plus-20 goal, we feel like we’re in a good position with our offense working, and we’re in position to challenge for the top spots in the RMAC,” Pittman said. “That goal is a lot more reachable with these guys being a year older and competing for spots on the field. I think they learn a lot from the competition, and they’ve really grown because of it. They take possessions, see opportunities and take them.”

Pittman says he sees the RMAC as competitive top to bottom.

Colorado School of Mines was the unanimous No. 1 selection in the RMAC preseason poll. The Orediggers won the RMAC last year and return the 2013 RMAC Player of the Year, Tesho Akindele, a 2012 first-team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Regis was picked to finish second in the conference, followed in order by Fort Lewis, Metro State and CMU.

“On paper, I think this is the best team we’ve had,” Pittman said. “Again, that’s on paper. We’re still going to take it one game at a time and one practice at a time and look to get better.”

CMU opens the 2013 season Saturday against California State-Stanislaus in Nampa, Idaho. The Mavericks host No. 23 Fort Hays State (Kan.) University and South Dakota Mines on Sept. 13 and 15.


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