It may be the offseason in college soccer, but the conversation has not changed much since November for Pac-12 men’s programs.
The elephant in the room continues to be “Why did we not make the postseason?”
For the Pac-12, that question is a yearly ritual, with seemingly one or two teams having a legitimate gripe with the selection committee’s decision on an annual basis.
Last year, Washington was the pallbearer for the Pac-12 feeling underappreciated. With a 12-4-2 record and an end of the season RPI at 43, the Huskies were howling at the disrespect.
“I was bitterly disappointed that we did not get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” University of Washington head coach Jamie Clark told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I thought the guys deserved it, and we certainly won enough games. Unfortunately, the NCAA committee felt like we did not win the right games.”
San Diego State has felt the same way for the last few years. After churning out 10-win seasons consistently, the Aztecs want their time in the spotlight.
Now with spring starting, the coaches still contemplate how to best prove their quality to the postseason selection committee.
For the Aztecs, that means taking on a very challenging schedule in the fall.
“We have an unbelievable schedule for next year,” Kirshner said. “We play Notre Dame, Indiana, and Clemson on the road as well as Ohio State at home.”
The Aztecs have added a very strong recruiting class to help with the taxing schedule.
“There is great leadership and great talent in this class,” Kirshner said. “There are a couple of players expected to fight for start spots.”
Headlining the class is Indiana University transfer Blake Wise, who is returning from a season-ending injury during his sophomore campaign with the Hoosiers.
Incoming freshmen Julio Alarcon, Jimmy Estrada, Daniel Flores, Travis Nicklaw, Aaron Thompson, and Keenan Thompson join Wise as the newcomers to San Diego State in 2012.
Kirshner also said he is using spring to improve on some of the shortcomings from last season.
“We are working on some things that deterred us from getting into NCAA playoffs,” the coach said. “We are doing things to fix that.”
Part of that consists of improving the fitness of the team in the offseason. The coach has been pleased by the progress he has seen as the vast majority of the team passed the fitness test, which had been an issue in the past.
Kirshner’s squad should also get a big boost from the return of Tyrone Martin to the squad after dealing with a bad knee injury during his sophomore season. The dominant center back was a breakout star for the Aztecs during his freshman season in 2010.
But the Aztecs and the rest of the Pac-12 men’s soccer programs will have a new challenge this season with former Charlotte 49ers head coach Jeremy Gunn taking over at Stanford.
“The biggest thing, to begin with, is getting organized as a group and getting the structure I’ll be looking for in the future,” Gunn told TopDrawerSoccer.com about his first action as head coach for the Cardinal.
Gunn is still getting to know the group at Palo Alto, but he has been the most active, aggressive PAC-12 coach in the off-season with establishing new ties among California youth clubs.
Earlier this week, he landed his first recruit for the 2013 class with Real So Cal goalkeeper Nico Corti giving his verbal to the Cardinal.
For next season though, Gunn will be building around MLS-prospect Adam Jahn and incoming freshman Aaron Kovar.
Even with all the hand wringing about the NCAA postseason, there is still optimism about next season for most programs, as UCLA looks somewhat vulnerable after losing eight players in the offseason.
“We are still building on what we did last year,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “We are plugging in new players, and we continue to develop as a team throughout the spring.”
The Bruins, which are anticipated to formally announce their recruiting class in the coming weeks, will be looking for freshman contributors from another highly rated class.
Players to watch in Pac-12:
Darwin Jones, Forward, Washington: The Seattle Sounders Academy product is already the apple of Jamie Clark’s eye. “I honestly believe Darwin Jones is the best attacking player coming into college soccer next year,” Clark said.
Earl Edwards, Goalkeeper, UCLA: After sitting on the bench for two years, former U.S. U17 World Cup veteran Earl Edwards is ready to rightfully take command of the Bruin’s net.
Seth Casiple, Midfield, Cal: The words tidy and industrious were made for Seth Casiple. He is the prototypical outside midfielder for MLS, and yet will only be a sophomore in the fall.