Summit, Horizon 2014 men’s league previews
2013 conference tournament champion: Denver
Offensive Player of the Year: Zach Bolden, Denver
Defensive Player of the Year: Theodor Remman, Denver
Goalkeeper of the Year: Oliver Brown, Denver
Newcomer of the Year: Christian Garcia, Nebraska-Omaha
Coach of the Year: Bobby Muuss, Denver
Teams (2013 overall, conference record)
Last year, the Summit League separated into a clearly defined stratosphere of haves and have-nots. In one sense, it was Denver and then everyone else. The Pioneers outscored conference opposition 16-1 last season and rarely came all that close to even drawing, let alone losing. They were nipped by Louisville in penalties in the first round of the dance, but there was little question they ruled the Summit roost in their first season in a new league.
For Denver, there will be no replacing Theodor Remman and Zach Bolden, the conference’s best player last year who was eventually taken in the MLS SuperDraft. Super midfielder Brian Hoyt will ease the burden and take the reins again this season after providing six assists last year. Six-foot-seven midfielder Reid Hukari is also back after a four-goal and five-assist 2013, and keeper of the year Oliver Brown returns for his senior season. Denver is weakened by a few losses, but they should run through this conference again in 2014.
The question is who can challenge. Western Illinois was the only league team to take a goal off Denver in 2013, but the Leathernecks have to cope with the loss of incendiary midfielder Husref Jupic, the conference’s second-leading scorer last year. Cornerstone keeper Yves Dietrich returns for his senior season, but he’ll need some help from his back line. He was forced to make more saves than any keeper in the league last season.
Omaha’s fast rise continues, as the Mavericks trek into their fourth-ever season with more optimism than ever. Much of that was generated by a three-win league season, and a host of talent returns, including striker and conference newcomer of the year Christian Garcia (four goals, two assists), Jamaican Vance Rookwood (four goals) and Brazilian defender Felipe da Silva. Oral Roberts brings back top scorers Edgardo Mira and Alex White, and a young team from last year will expect to challenge for No. 2 this season.
The trio at the bottom last season - IUPUI, Eastern Illinois and Fort Wayne - didn’t show signs of life until conference play, and improvements are necessary after the three only combined for four wins total. That said, IUPUI did nick a game off Omaha last year, and a heavier string of those results could lead one of these three into the top four this season.
2013 conference tournament champion: Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Co-Players of the Year: Laurie Bell, Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Bob Novak, UIC
Offensive Player of the Year: Laurie Bell, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Beard, UIC
Goalkeeper of the Year: Andrew Putna, UIC
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Putna, UIC
Coach of the Year: Sean Phillips, UIC
Teams (2013 overall, conference record)
1. UIC (16-4, 7-0)
2. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (15-3-2, 5-2)
3. Oakland (7-7-5, 4-2-1)
4. Cleveland State (8-12, 3-4)
5. Wright State (6-11-2, 3-4)
6. Valparaiso (5-8-5, 2-3-2)
7. Wisconsin-Green Bay (7-7-3, 2-4-1)
8. Detroit(m) (3-11-4, 0-7)
The Horizon League underwent a bizarre finish to the 2013 campaign when defending league champ Cleveland State fielded an ineligible player and was disqualified from the conference tournament. That marked the end of the college careers of a serious senior class led by Amir Suljevic, Aslinn Rodas and Zach Ellis-Hayden. Things didn’t slow down when the league final between UIC and Milwaukee was delayed four hours, changed sites and was played in a howling wind tunnel. Milwaukee, which lost to UIC in the regular season, won 2-0 and lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
While UIC loses its defending co-player of the year, Milwaukee’s Laurie Bell returns. He landed on the TDS preseason Best XI first team and is a Hermann Trophy watch lister, so he’ll be a marked man in 2014. He’ll get help from returner Luke Goodnetter, but the defense will need a new cornerstone with the departure of Andrew Stone. UIC was the class of the league last year, but the loss of Bob Novak won’t help matters. That said, Andrew Putna was the surprise of the league last year between the pipes, and Jesus Torres returns as arguably the league’s best forward. It should be UIC and Milwaukee again fighting for the spot in the dance.
Oakland’s concerted defensive effort last year led them to four league wins and to the doorstep of the NCAA tourney, but the loss of defensive keystones like Nick Kristock and Sean Lewis will require attention. The partnership between midfielder Raphael Reynolds and forward Joey Tinnon will be crucial. Belmont enters the league this year after snapping up six wins last year and will have to replace the production left off by Alfred Edmonds' graduated six goals. Cleveland State has some encouraging pieces back, but the immediate window snapped shut when three first-team players graduated in the offseason. That could open the door for an enterprising raider from the bottom four.
Wright State returns a lot of its most talented pieces, including the defensive duo of Jake Stovall and senior Emeka Ononye, one of the best defenders in the league. Valparaiso and Green Bay can also dream of improvement based on a couple key returners. Nobody landed more players on the all-freshman team than Valpo, which will look toward Adrian Graham, Omar Lawrence and Kevin Klett to help spur the climb. Green Bay has to replace forward Sam Krenzien, but midfielder Lawrence Talery returns for his senior season and should be one of the league’s best.
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