WATERTOWN, Wis. -- "Building years."
It's a cliche phrase among coaches, but sometimes, cliches gain popularity for good reason. So to say that this year for the Maranatha Men's Soccer team was a "building year" is no empty consolation for the disappointment of losing at the regional stage. In the mind of Coach Jeff Pill, the 2018 season was a legitimate stepping stone for a promising year to come.
What is Pill's confidence founded on?
Two things. First, a noteworthy group of four-year veterans that are set to return for the 2019 season - every last one of these nine seniors is a consistent playing option for the Sabercats, and in Coach Pill's mind, this may be the best class he's seen since he took over in 2008. And all in all, the Sabercats lose only two student-athletes for next season.
"This group [of seniors] is exciting," Pill notes. "They may hold even more potential than the group of seniors that helped us win the national title four years ago. We'll find out next season, but as a coaching staff, we are 'cautiously optimistic'."
Second, Coach Pill is optimistic because of the Sabercats' results against some top NCCAA DII programs. In September, the Sabercats were one goal away from eventual NCCAA DII champions, North Central University.
"I think our guys know how close we are to the top," said Pill. "Losing 0-1 to NCU in a competitive game shows that we are able to compete with the best team in the country."
The Sabercats' region has represented well at the NCCAA National stage. Since 2011, the region has produced five champions while fielding a team in the championship match in seven of the eight tournaments. Still, the Sabercats have not claimed the region crown since Pill's first year at the helm. While competing closely provides encouragement, Pill and the team know it's meaningless on paper.
"At the end of the day, we are still missing the pieces we need to get the results we want," Pill said. "We prioritize the 'process' of raising our own standards of execution, but we are missing the finishing touches we need to win the region."
The 2018 season brought disappointment, as the Sabercats had to weather eight consecutive losses to open the season. Of those eight defeats, five were one-goal games, and in a 2-0 loss to Webster, the Gorloks (who were ranked #7 in the NCAA regional rankings at the time) scored their second with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
So close, yet so far away.
MBU finished the season with a 6-13-0 record and lost in the NCCAA regional semifinal to Providence University College - the same team that denied the Sabercats the 2017 NCCAA North Region title. Still, despite a disappointing record, the group - who had lost 11 student-athletes from the previous season - showed they were capable of stepping into the vacant leadership roles and make an impact on the field.
At Tuesday's Athletic Awards Assembly, the Sabercats announced their team awards, which are based on the team's CORE BELIEF DOCUMENT and are determined by a team vote. In addition to these honors, the student-athletes earned awards from the Association of Division III Independents and the National Christian College Athletic Association.
A complete breakdown of the awards is listed below:
|CORE BELIEF AWARD||RECIPIENT|
|Process Award||Joel Shepard|
|Qualities of the Heart||Kevin Risma|
|Qualities of the Mind||Austin DeAngelo|
|Qualities of Action||Brendan Burckart|
|Jamie O'Dell Leadership Award||Andrew Taylor|
|AD3I 1st Team All-Independent|
|Caleb Hockema||Zeke Steuerwald|
|Andrew Taylor (Goalkeeper of the Year)|
|AD3I 2nd Team All-Independent|
|Austin DeAngelo||Tyler Nelson|
|NCCAA All-Region Selections|
|Caleb Hockema||Zeke Steuerwald|
|USC All-Wisconsin Team|
|Zeke Steuerwald (Honorable Mention)|
For more on the program, visit their team page HERE.