The men’s soccer team saw many bright moments this season. With an impressive overall record for Head Coach Mario Sanchez’s first season with the Cougars and the team’s historical victory over the Missouri Valley Regular season, the men’s soccer program has made progress and improvements from last year.
SIUE fans watched as the Cougar season ended with a 1-0 loss to Drake University in the MVC tournament championship Sunday, Nov. 15, giving the Cougars a bittersweet finish.
Reflecting on his first season with the Cougars, Sanchez said although the season went positively, he feels the team could have accomplished more.
“I thought it went very well. I still think we underachieved based on the four games that we lost. They were four games that we honestly should have won,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said despite the four losses in the Cougars’ season, the team had many victories that showed the true grit and determination of each athlete.
“On the flip side, there [were games] like Butler, USD, San Diego State [and] even [the away game against Drake] that I thought the guys showed a lot of character to get wins in those games,” Sanchez said.
The Cougars’ 12-4-3 overall record gave them the Missouri Valley regular season victory, a feat never before accomplished by the SIUE men’s soccer program.
Sanchez said the Cougars’ ability to persist through the regular season earned them the regular season title.
“When you look back and truly reflect on it, getting 12 wins, winning the regular season championship — which is honestly harder than the conference tournament because it’s not a knockout thing, it’s over a series of games,” Sanchez said. “Ironically, I thought we were the best team in the Missouri Valley, and I thought we deserved the achievement of winning the regular season.”
Despite the Cougars’ success in the regular season and victory against Loyola in the MVC semifinals, Sanchez said he believes the team had more to give to the 2015 season.
“Overall, I’m very happy, but very disappointed because I thought we had more to offer,” Sanchez said.
A notable characteristic of the Cougars, according to Sanchez, was the team’s performance during away games.
“We were fantastic on the road. We really came together and showed a lot of character. That, for me, was a huge highlight,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said another strong positive point to the season was the team’s consistency throughout the regular season.
“Over the length of the Missouri Valley regular season, to be as consistent as we were was a definite highlight,” Sanchez said.
According to Sanchez, three standout performances throughout the season were senior defenders Brett Lane, Jacob Wieser and Paul Scheipeter. Lane scored two of the Cougars’ goals this season and recorded a total of 14 shots, including eight on goal. Wieser received the MVC Elite 18 award for the highest performance in the conference — academically and athletically — throughout the season. His record for the season includes three recorded shots. Scheipeter netted his first career goal this season and also recorded two assists.
“I thought what those guys did was pretty special. To come in and be as consistent as they were — I give those guys a lot of credit,” Sanchez said.
Three Cougars were selected for the MVC All-Tournament team this season — senior defender Justin Bilyeu, junior defender Austin Ledbetter and sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo.
SIUE’s men’s soccer coaching staff was also recognized for their efforts this season. On the night before the MVC semifinals, Sanchez, Associate Head Coach David Korn, Assistant Coach Scott Gyllenborg and Goalkeeper Coach Tim Boruff were awarded MVC Men’s Soccer Coaching Staff of the Year.
Ledbetter said Sanchez’s influence on the program has built a better record than last season’s.
“We’ve come a long way. With Mario [Sanchez] coming in, he started to change our program around. We went from [an 8-7 record] this year to [the 12-4-3 record] that we are now; I would say it’s a big jump,” Ledbetter said.
Dal Santo said an important moment of the season was the team’s regular season MVC victory.
“Winning the regular season, I think, was the best highlight of the season. Not only is it the first time in our program’s history that we won the regular season, but we did it at home, in overtime; the crowd was fantastic. I thought it was the best moment of the season,” Dal Santo said.
Another bright point in the season for Dal Santo was the Cougars’ 2-1 win against Butler University in early October.
“It was our opportunity to prove to the country and to ourselves that we can play with any team,” Dal Santo said.
Dal Santo said the Cougars will use their losses this season to push them into next season and help them maintain their focus in every game they play.
“If we take our eye off the prize for one second, we can lose. As a program and individually, we have to be able to compete at the highest level all the time, no matter who it is,” Dal Santo said.
Redshirt freshman midfielder Keegan McHugh said the Cougars’ mindset was a major cause of the team’s four losses, and the athletes will need to work on consistency individually and as a team throughout the next season.
“Our losses didn’t come from being outplayed. They came from us playing to the other team’s level or coming into the game with the wrong mindset. Keeping that consistency throughout the season is what’s going to create more success than we had this season,” McHugh said.
According to McHugh, working to be consistent in every moment as an athlete is a challenge, but the Cougars are very capable of putting in the work to improve the next season.
“The hardest part is doing it every day. In a sense, it’s a short season, but it’s also very long. It’s not easy to do. I definitely think we have the players and the staff to get it done,” McHugh said.
Ledbetter said the Cougars should use the hurt from their loss this weekend to propel them into a better performance in the 2016 season.
“We started it this year, but we didn’t get to our full potential. Next season, we need to focus on this feeling — knowing that we should be in the tournament, but we’re not, and it hurts — to continue the legacy we have to remember this and use it in a positive way and come back into next season stronger,” Ledbetter said.