Twelve players eligible to return to the Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team will no longer play for the three-time national champions. Seventeen new players will fill the roster along with players that could potentially be added through an open tryout.
Second-year head coach David Oberholtzer wants a culture change at Dirks Field. Players who couldn’t meet his standard were dismissed, and some chose not to return.
“We want a program with high expectations,” Oberholtzer said. “To do that, you have to set high standards. Sometimes guys are not able to meet those standards, and sometimes guys don’t want to meet those standards because it takes work.
“We have some new ideas and want guys who fit the culture we want to create here. The nature of it is that not everybody fits that or had fit that in the past. There’s always some attrition going through that process. At the end of the day, we want guys who are most bought in to the program and philosophy we have as a coaching staff.”
Many familiar names, many young players, are no longer with the Skyhawks. No position on the field will be without big changes.
Thomas de Faria, Dana Kowachek, Brayden Reese, Laurin Weiland and Robbie Young are gone from the midfield equation.
Ecuadorian twins Andrés and Martín López will no longer show their blazing speed at the forward position for the Skyhawks. Those midfielders and forwards combined for seven goals and eight assists last season.
Malik Badawi, Kyle Leonard and Alex Tillberry will be absent from the defensive back line. Goalkeepers Elliot Chadderton and Jack Jordan are also out, guaranteeing a new starter between the posts after Chadderton started 16 games a year ago while posting a 9-7 record with five shutouts.
The Skyhawks also lost three seniors from last year’s team. As the roster is currently constructed, FLC has 11 returning players to go with the 17 new additions that include five transfers.
“Over the past 12 months, we’ve been not just adding depth but creating competition at every position,” Oberholtzer said. “We think we’ve got legitimate guys in every role who will push each other.”
Fall camp will open Monday, and an open tryout will be held Sept. 4 to any full-time student interested in the team.
“The tryout we have posted is kind of an opportunity, a late opportunity, for any students who want to be part of the team,” Oberholtzer said. “We’re going to turn over every stone and see if there is somebody out there.”
A late opportunity is no understatement. The Skyhawks will play their annual alumni game at 3 p.m. Aug. 26. The regular season will open Sept. 1 at No. 6 Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas. FLC will stay in Wichita Falls to play against Texas A&M International on Sept. 3.
The team will rely on some returning leaders such as All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference defender Sean Cleary and Churchill Onumonu, who led the team with seven goals as a freshman last season. Building a cohesive unit is the biggest focus for the team in the weeks leading up to the first game.
“The guys returning, they are returning for a reason,” Oberholtzer said. “They believe in the program and are bought in. We didn’t want guys to return if they weren’t completely bought in. We feel good about our guys.”
Oberholtzer also hired a new assistant coach in July. Keane Hamilton will join him on the bench. Both coaches are former FLC players who experienced NCAA Division II national championships.
Oberholtzer played on the 2006 national runner-up team and was an assistant coach for FLC for two national titles in 2009 and 2011. He returned to the Skyhawks last summer to replace Oige Kennedy after spending time as an assistant coach at Division I Dayton University in Ohio from 2013-16.
Hamilton was a freshman when Oberholtzer was a senior for the Skyhawks. He played at FLC from 2007-10 and was a key member of the 2009 national title team. He played professionally in Ireland for the Mount Merrion Football Club before moving back to his hometown of Missoula, Montana, where he was a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach since 2012.
Oberholtzer said the team needs to score more goals. FLC went 9-9-1 last season and finished 8-5-1 in the RMAC. The season ended on a three-game losing streak in which the Skyhawks were shut out in every game to finish with six shutout losses on the season. FLC scored 32 goals and allowed 26 last year to rank sixth in the conference in both categories. Finishing in the middle of the RMAC pack isn’t good enough for a program with national tournament aspirations.
Including returners, 17 players will start the new season with four years of eligibility remaining. If the young group can stay together, Oberholtzer likes their chance of moving in the right direction. As for 2017, only time will tell if so many players can build the connections needed to succeed in a conference as strong as the RMAC. “I think the name and history of the program will always be out there in the conference,” Oberholtzer said.
“With so many new faces and this change in the roster, I think we’ll be somewhat of an unknown entity. A big part of our success will be in building chemistry and will be dependent on how quickly that builds. We have talent on this squad.”