"This weekend, as many of you know, we open up in the second annual Big Toe Invitational. We'll be welcoming in Drake as well as UNLV with our tournament partner UW-Milwaukee, both very formidable opponents. Certainly we know Drake a little bit better than UNLV, just being in our region and having played them last year.
"They were a good side last year. It was a tough game down there. Aaron Hohlbein got a goal late to seal the win for us, but a very good team and certainly, you know, we look at their roster, there's some players that we know throughout the region. UNLV, we were there two years ago and it was a little, it was a strange game.
"We went a man down and went a goal down, yet the core that's with this team that are juniors now, they were freshmen at that time. And at halftime we rallied and even a man down came back and won that game. So it was a bit of a turning point, even though it was early in the year. It was a good rallying point. The guys showed great grit and determination to pull that game out.
"Now UNLV is coming off a tough season, but at the same time, I was impressed two years ago. And I thought they were a very athletic side, had some very skillful players, and were very, very dangerous. And Drake certainly, being in the Missouri Valley last year, obviously they played the likes of Creighton and Tulsa and SMU, and they played those teams very, very tough. So we're looking forward to it. Should be a great weekend. The weather should be cooperating, which is always a good thing.
"Now, of course, our guys, just to give you a little bit of a recap going into the weekend, you know, through preseason, thank goodness, nobody has been seriously injured, so we've got everybody to choose from for the weekend. They're looking forward to it. You know, many of you who know our team certainly know the loss of Nick Van Sicklen and Jed Hohlbein, were two huge losses for us, and certainly created a bit of a vacancy in terms of the goal-scoring column.
"However, you know, we've talked to our other players, our midfielders and forwards that are returning, and certainly collectively I think we have five, six, seven guys who at any time can score goals for us. And certainly they're going to need to, to kind of replace that loss. You know, the other one we lost was Noah Goerlitz, who was kind of our holding midfielder. You know, Frank Iaizzo, a junior for us, has done well through preseason. And also in goal, you know, we lost a three-year starter in Eric Hanson. So we were looking through preseason to figure out who was going to fill that void and Jake Settle has had a good preseason and certainly brings a wealth of talent and a wealth of experience with him. So we feel we've answered some of those losses, and we're looking forward to a good weekend, should be a great start for us.
"And, you know, if you look at our schedule, we've, you know, I knew this group of juniors were going to be experienced going into this season and we've put together what we feel is going to be an extremely competitive schedule. When you look at it, there are 11 teams that made the NCAA tournament from last year.
"We've got a trip out to Washington to play Portland and Washington. Even though they're not in the top 20, they could be there any week. We go down to play New Mexico, which, you know, as of late has been a top 10 program. So, of course, then we've got the Big Ten schedule. So it's an extremely competitive schedule and we're looking forward to kicking it off."
Coach, have you figured out exactly where you're going to play Victor Diaz?
"Yeah. We've tinkered with him up top in a two front. What we do know about Victor is he can score goals. He showed us all last spring what he's capable of doing. There's not a whole lot of people that, you know, are now going to be surprised by his presence. You know, we will at times probably play him underneath as well.
"Being a smaller guy, he tends to take a beating when his back is to the goal quite often, so it's a way to kind of protect him, maybe in the same way we did with Nick. There were some times we'd have Nick up top and if he was, you know, getting beat up by some of the bigger guys back there, we'd slide him underneath and he'd pick up some second balls and make some things happen from there where he's maybe facing goal and able to do some things on the run."
Is not having any seniors a big deal or is it just an interesting note in the media notes?
"It's probably more of an interesting note, because even though they're juniors, I look at them as two-year seniors because of the experience they've had. A lot of those guys have come in and they've asked, they've been asked to step in and fill some holes and do some things for us, you know, these past couple years that, you know, a lot of younger players maybe hadn't been asked to do. So they're an experienced group, even though it's, you know, they're not seniors."
Three of those guys in the junior class, Reid (Johnson) and Aaron (Hohlbein) and Andrew (Cardona), played for the (Madison) 56ers this summer. What do you think they took out of that experience and how is that going to help?
"Well, a large number of our players actually played in this new league, the NPSL, which was kind of like a sister league to the PDL, a high-level regional amateur team. A lot of our guys played in that league.
"What it did is it provided them with an opportunity through the summer to play at a high level, to play against good teams, to train with good players, whereas, you know, a lot of times the players go back in the summers and, you know, they're maybe training twice a week and, you know, playing here and there. Certainly at the youth level, at U19 and under 20, after, if you don't make it to nationals, you know, your season in the summer is pretty much done by mid-June. So it gave our guys a chance to play at a good level all the way up through August."
Coach, Kenny Dix was named in the top 100 I think by College Soccer News for freshmen. Who are some of the guys who, of this freshman class, that you think can step in and contribute right away?
"Well, I think as a group they've done very well, and certainly Kenny has proven in these first couple weeks that he's going to be a player that will help us. Zack Lambo has done a great job as a left back. He certainly could see time. I think Andy Miller as a right back could certainly see time as well. You know, but as a group they've all done very, very well. I think Kenny has done some things to turn some heads for sure."