The end of a season is a time for reflection. The players on SanDiego State’s men’s soccer team look back at their losing season andsee a silver lining.
Second-year head coach Lev Kirshner guided last year’s squad to arecord of 6-12-1. This year, SDSU finished with a 7-9-4 record.
“I am pretty pleased,” junior goalkeeper Brian Barnes said. “Ourteam improved. This was the first time in my years here that the teamhas been a unit. That was the one thing that really carried usthrough the season.”
The Aztecs were one win away from winning the Mountain PacificSports Federation title when they lost their conference finale toCal-State Sacramento. Just being in the situation of playing for theconference title was quite an accomplishment, and it was somethingthe team hadn’t done in some time.
SDSU went to the conference tournament seeded No. 4 but got upsetin the first round by No. 5 UNLV in a grueling match that was finallysettled with a shootout. In a bizarre twist, every win at thetournament was an upset.
Itended when No. 8 New Mexico defeated No. 7 Fresno State in the finalround. As the team moves on toward next season, it can reflect on theimprovements of this year.
The offense showed remarkable improvement this season despite aslow start. This year’s squad scored 38 goals compared to lastseason’s total of 25. One of the big reasons the Aztecs improved wassophomore Kevin Sapanli, who missed most of last year with a tornACL. He rebounded in a big way.
Sapanli led the team with eight goals. He also had three assists,giving him 19 points, which tied for the team lead with seniorEnrique Tovar. Tovar is one player SDSU is going to miss.
Tovar led the team with 14 points a year ago and did not let upthis year. Besides being tied for the lead in points, he led the teamin assists, shots, shots on goal and penalty kicks. He was at hisbest during conference play and was often hailed by his teammates forhis part in the success during the season.
Although the Aztecs are losing Tovar, they look to be in capablehands as a lot of newcomers made a big impact on offense this season.One player in particular made his presence on the field known.
Freshman Eric Wohl is a local product from Rancho Bernardo HighSchool where, after scoring 35 goals and registering 13 assists, hewas named Palomar League Player of the Year and All-CIF as a senior.For the Aztecs, Wohl was second in goals scored (6), assists (5) andin points (17). Wohl also scored two goals in the final match of theseason against nationally ranked No. 15 USD.
“He had his coming out party,” junior Tyler Tinling said. “We allknew he had the ability and it showed.”
SDSU’s defense allowed 30 goals this season compared to only 25last season. They did play one more game this year, so the differenceis not as big as it would appear.
“I think there is room for improvement,” senior goalkeeper TimEdwards said. “But overall, we stayed focused and played solid.”
One thing they need to improve on is holding leads. They blewleads against Notre Dame de Namur, UCSB, Cal State Fullerton, UNLVand USD. The Aztecs were up 3-0 at the half in the tournament gameagainst UNLV before allowing the Rebels to tie the score at three andeventually win in a shootout.
Still, the defense was solid all year long. It was also given alot of help from some new faces. Freshmen Anthony Zoric, Greg Kaplanand Drew Piccone all saw a lot of playing time.
“We had people at every position stepping it up,” Barnes said.”Our young guys were a huge part of that.”
When you combine that new talent with veteran leadership ofplayers like Tinling and juniors Ryan Cook and Adam Kulpa it shouldprove to be a strong defensive team next season.
Head coach Lev Kirshner liked to brag that SDSU had the two bestgoalkeepers in the conference.
Edwards took over in the net earlier this year when the startinggoalkeeper Barnes went down with an injury. Edwards took advantage,and playing himself into the starting role.
He finished the season having started 12 matches for SDSU,recording 62 saves to go along with three shutouts.
“It was a great story for Tim to be the starter his senior year,”Tinling said. “We still have Brian for next season and we know he cando the job.”
Barnes certainly knows how to do the job after, only a year ago,having been named first-team All-MPSF and setting a school record forsaves in a season with 90. The Aztecs are in good shape in front ofthe net.
“We were not going to turn the program around in a year,” Barnessaid. “You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you canrun.”
The overall improvement of the team this year and the talent ofthe young players could have SDSU off and running next season.