Denver Men's Soccer: Just Getting Started

On Nov. 22nd Denver’s men’s soccer team concluded their Cinderella Story after falling in overtime to Southern Methodist University in the second round of the NCAA playoffs. Denver’s heartbreaking loss marked the first of the season for the lone-remaining undefeated team in the nation, as well as the first loss at CIBER Field in 29 matches for the Pioneers. Despite losing a well-contested match, the men’s soccer program earned an immense amount of pride and sense of accomplishment to take away from this season’s multiple record-breaking achievements. The team faced adversity coming into the season with a new head coach, an incredibly young roster, and proving doubts about the Pios making an appearance in the Final Four wrong, the team was able to overcome such obstacles and establish a name for the program on a national level.

No “I” in TEAM

Denver’s roster was flooded with talent during the 2015 season as first-year head coach, Jamie Franks, recruited a versatile freshman class, including two international players, and the returning players made noticeable improvements following intense off-season training. The concept of what it means to be a team was truly a unified sentiment for the Pios coming into this season. The team began summer training in July when the majority of the players lived in a house together, forming bonds off the pitch and creating friendships that greatly impacted the level of trust and confidence reflected when match play began.
Throughout the season, there was no sole “star” that the team relied on to deliver the success the team achieved, but rather the entire team’s efforts each game produced the favorable results. Franks formatted a strong starting eleven in addition to a deep bench offering a wide variety of threats to every Denver opponent.

Specifically, Denver’s outside right back, Reagan “Reggie” Dunk had a tremendous year. The redshirt junior from Dallas, Texas led the team with eight assists and scored a game-winning goal against Oral Roberts. Dunk was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Summit League and received multiple Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week awards throughout the season. While Dunk plays on the back line, Franks' energetic style of offense encouraged the outside back to make 50+ yard runs throughout matches. Dunk has a “superman-esque” quality about him; his athletic capabilities vary from his outstanding speed and stamina, to his phenomenal ball control and footwork, and his impressive strength in holding his own up and down the flank. In fact, a few of Dunk’s eight assists occurred in double overtime when the outside back was continuing to charge down the touchline, outrunning his fatigued opponents who were unable to keep up with him in the first five minutes of play, let alone after 90 minutes.

First-Year Legend 

With versatility from players like Dunk and playing time extending far past the starting eleven, Denver’s triumphant season was well-earned from the dedication, drive, and trust shared between the players and the coaching staff. 

Jamie Franks was hired as Denver’s tenth head coach this fall and returned for his fourth year with the program. According to the NCAA, Franks (29 years old) was the youngest Division I coach of the 2015 season and received the Summit League’s Coach of the Year honor. Franks is no stranger to the sport by any means. The Wake Forest graduate was a member of one of the most decorated classes of collegiate soccer where Franks saw action in three college cups and won the 2007 National Title. Franks had high aspirations coming into this season with the goal to take the Pios to their first Final Four in school history. Denver fell just short of advancing to the semifinals, but the team finished the season shattering previous records and receiving national recognition for the program...not too shabby for a first-year head coach. 

A Season For The Books 

For the first time since 1989, Denver was unbeaten through the first 18 matches marking the first time in Division I history across all sports at DU that the Pios were unbeaten during the regular season. Prior to the loss to SMU, Denver’s 29 home match unbeaten streak was the longest active in the nation and was the 11th longest in NCAA history. Furthermore, Denver generated a 21 match home winning streak, which was also the 11th longest in NCAA history. That streak ended Oct. 2nd when the Pios tied IUPUI 1-1.

The Pioneers graduated only two seniors this season, two of which were starters. Senior center midfield captain Jordan Schweitzer from Everett, Washington and redshirt senior goalkeeper Dan Jackson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina both contributed greatly to the Pios' successes this season. 

Schweitzer was seen as the “glue” of the midfield, connecting distribution, dictating play, and transitioning the team defensively to offensively. Schweitzer’s leadership significantly aided the youthful team in remaining level-headed throughout several heated matches Denver encountered. 

Jackson received the Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year award and three-time Defensive Player of the Week throughout the season. Jackson was ranked fourth in the nation by the end of the Pioneer’s season, averaging 0.41 goals against him.

The Pios are fortunate to be losing only two players considering the extent of the achievements the team earned this year; however, Schweitzer and Jackson were essential contributors to this season’s successes and their positions will be big roles to fill in the future seasons.

What’s Next?

When looking at the team in its entirety, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming years. As mentioned, the team is very young and will be returning a great deal of talent. For starters, the entire back line will be returning including center backs Kortne Ford (sophomore) and Scott DeVoss (redshirt freshman) who were huge factors during Denver’s undefeated streak. Midfielders Karsten Hanlin (redshirt junior) and captain, Sam Hamilton (junior) will take on leadership roles in the coming seasons. Hanlin’s precise strikes sent Denver over the top in a few matches that went to overtime and Hamilton’s strength in stringing the Pio’s possession will be vital going forward. Wingers Chandler Crosswait (redshirt junior) and Alex Underwood (sophomore) provided Denver with threats from the flanks and spreading the play all the way to the touchlines. Forwards Cole Stevenson (sophomore) and Brazil native, Andre Shinyashiki (freshman) will aid Denver in keeping their offensive edge. Additional freshmen Frank Carsonie and Japanese native, Kenny Akamatsu will help Denver with their versatility in the midfield and up top where both players excel in speed and creativity on the ball. The remaining freshmen all played on MLS development academy club teams prior to attending DU.

With widespread talent on Denver’s roster, the coming years will be ones to remember as the team continues to strive for a Final Four appearance and a potential National Title. Finding players who can fill Schweitzer's and Jackson's shoes will be necessary, as will taking initiative offensively by Shinyashiki, Akamatsu, and Carsonie whose flashy footwork and riskiness in shooting will be substantial threats for the Denver offense. The more comfortable those players are in asserting their style of play the more Denver will benefit, as well as incorporating the additional talent of the freshman class and incoming recruits which Coach Franks has meticulously selected.

This is not just the end of an amazing season for the Pioneers, but rather a glimpse into a new era of excellence for men’s soccer at the University of Denver under Coach Franks. Stay tuned, because the future of soccer at Denver is going to be worth watching.


Anonymous said...

Sasha - Great job. Writing gets better and better...

dggoddard said...

Good article.

Anonymous said...

Way too long to keep my interest.