Following the most successful season in the program's history, the Case Western Reserve University men's soccer team will enter the 2019 season looking to build off of last season's success, and make a second-straight appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Spartans qualified for the NCAA Division III Tournament for only the third time program history during the campaign, and made its' first-ever appearance in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships. CWRU's quarterfinal finish was the best in the history of the Case Western Reserve University men's soccer program.
Case Western Reserve finished the year ranked seventh in the final United Soccer Coaches Association Division III Top-25 Poll, a 12-spot improvement on their ranking from earlier in the regular season when they checked in at 19th in the national rankings. This was the highest the team has ever been ranked in the United Soccer Coaches' final poll of the year.
Overall, 22 players return, including nine starters and an additional four players who started at least one match in 2018.
CWRU will begin the 2019 campaign ranked seventh in the United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division III Top-25 Preseason poll, which once again is the highest the team has ever been ranked in the United Soccer Coaches' first poll of the year.
"Obviously, last year was a special season and we're working hard to make sure that this group fully turns the page," said Head Coach Brandon Bianco. "This is a new year and a new team. What last year did for this group is give our program the confidence that we're able to compete and win at the national level. We can build from this valuable experience while also recognizing that we won't be sneaking up on anyone this year."
Headlining Bianco's roster is senior forward Zachary Senft, who earned D3Soccer.com All-America Third Team honors in 2018, an All-Great Lakes Region second team honoree and an All-UAA First Team selection, and junior defender Nathan Ekberg, an All-Great Lakes Region First Team honoree and an All-UAA First Team selection.
Senft led the team last season with 28 points on 10 goals and eight assists. He scored game-winning goals against Heidelberg, Adrian and Keystone. Ekberg led the Spartans defensively as he aided the team to seven shutouts during the season. He also scored five goals for 10 points, including the game-winning goal against Westminster (Pa.) on October 22.
In addition to Senft and Ekberg, two more All-UAA selections return in senior midfielder Garrett Winter and sophomore goalkeeper Charlie Fink. During his junior season, Winter ranked second on the team with 24 points on nine goals and six assists. Fink had a tremendous freshman campaign, as he started all 22 games in net and posted a 16-4-2 individual record. He only allowed 22 goals in over 1,977 minutes in net for a 1.00 goals-against average. Fink made 69 saves and registered a .758 save percentage.
"Our best players must always play well for us to have success," said Bianco. "We expect those four to not only play well consistently, but also we must be well led and that must be a collective effort from our group, especially our veteran players."
In addition to Senft, the front line will feature junior Seldon Magruder, and sophomores Jacob Hall and Tye Williams. Magruder finished ranked fourth on the team with eight goals for 16 points during his sophomore campaign.
The midfield is loaded with experience, with the likes of returning seniors Chas Novitsky, juniors Matt DePeppe, Connor Weber and Nevo Ziv, and sophomores Sean Atwater, Henry Barnes and Peter Dernelle.
Weber started all 22 games and tallied three goals and eight assists for 14 points.
The defense will feature senior Brian Woo, who started all 22 games last season, and sophomore Justin Rehklau, who played in 18 games and made three starts last season. In addition to Woo and Rehklau, the defense is set to return seniors Nicholas Bertrand and Kyle Lewis, and sophomore Brendan Murray.
In addition to the returners, the Spartans are set to welcome four freshman and two sophomores to team, including goalkeeper Jackson Kallen, defenders Colin Lynch and Rafael Perez, and midfielders Adrian Harkness, Ethan MacGillivray and Matt Vatne.
"The depth of the team is a work in progress and if our young players continue to improve then our depth has an opportunity to be a strength of this group," said Bianco.
The Spartans open the season with three of their first four matches at home, including the home opener against Heidelberg University at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 30. The team will then be on the road for its next two games, before returning home to face in-region opponent John Carroll University at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 18. CWRU will then hit the road for two more games before closing out the month of September at home against Otterbein University for 1:30 match on Saturday, September 28.
"We understand that when game one begins that we won't be a finished product," said Bianco. "While we're continuing to improve, our group must have a strong foundation based on competitive intensity, communication, and commitment to our goals and values of our program."
The UAA portion of the schedule, which features three nationally-ranked teams in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Poll, begins on the road with a Saturday, October 5 match-up against New York University. The Spartans then play a crucial three-match conference stretch at home against Brandeis University, Emory University and the fourth-ranked University of Rochester.
"The UAA will be very good again, as always," said Bianco. "All 8 programs have made the NCAA tournament once in the last three seasons. Everyone is good and I know our group loves to play against those tremendous programs. We look forward to those challenges and will work to be at our best when those matches arrive."
The regular season will wrap up with a road weekend against the third-ranked University of Chicago and Washington University (Mo.), and then conclude with a home match against 18th-ranked Carnegie Mellon University on Saturday, November 5.
"We hope that we'll be a team that come November we're able to say that we've made the most of each opportunity we've had to do what we love with people we care deeply about," said Bianco. "If this group commits to one another and makes the most of each day, I like our chances."