Experience, leadership key for UVU men's soccer heading into 2016 season


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OREM — With the Olympics and the local college football teams opening up fall camp, there hasn't been much talk about the Utah Valley University men's soccer team. That might be a mistake.

The Wolverines come into the 2016 season with 19 returning players, with the majority of their starting line intact.

“We have tremendous experience and leadership on our side," head coach Greg Maas said. "As long as we continue to stay healthy and focused, I am confident that our experience and leadership will help to carry us deep into the year."

Maas expects to lean on his trio of seniors in Alex Neff, Skyler Milne and Thomas Loomis, along with key returners Karson Payton, Austin Buxton and Paul Hoffmeister. Sophomore midfielder Aaron Meyer also returns after being named to the TopDrawerSoccer's DI Men's Soccer Freshman Best XI First Team.

"We’re going to lean a lot on our upperclassmen and the leadership that our three true seniors Skyler, Alex and Tom will bring to the team," Maas said. "It’s going to really help us to get started off on the right foot."

Neff is a two-time first-team All-WAC defender and anchors a defense that allowed less than a goal per game in 2015.

“We’re expecting to pick up where we finished off last year," Neff said. "We know that we can get back to the (NCAA) tournament and instead of losing in the WAC championship game, bringing that trophy home. I think that we can do big things this year.”

Milne garnered second-team All-WAC honors in 2015 after leading the Wolverines with nine goals in 22 games. Milne also tied for the team lead in goals scored with seven with the GPS Phoenix of the Premier Development League this summer.

“I always thought the expectations have been high for us by others," Milne said. "They have always been higher within ourselves. People expect us to do good but we want to do great. This year, as leaders on the team, we expect the team to work hard, work harder than we’ve ever worked before to go further than we’ve ever gone before.”

Not only do the Wolverines return 19 players from a team that won 14 games and earned the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and the school's first-ever top-25 national ranking, they also bring in the 12th-rated recruiting class, according to TopDrawerSoccer.

"Our incoming players are not just talented soccer players, they're fantastic young men off of the field," Maas said. "They have fit in seamlessly on the pitch and have added to the depth, culture and personality of this team."

Coaches across the nation have taken notice as well as the Wolverines earned votes in the preseason NCSAA Coaches Poll. UVU was also ranked 28th in a preseason poll released by College Soccer News.

“It’s exciting," Maas said. "I believe we have earned the respect of programs from around the country in our first two years. We've had limited graduation, a solid recruiting class, and our strength of schedule helps. Gaining national recognition is something that we have embraced, and it has forced us to remain laser-focused in order to maintain the respect of our peers.”

Two of the biggest games on the schedule for UVU are the season opener against Pac-12 foe Washington at Clyde Field in Orem on Aug. 26 and a Sept. 30 showdown at Seattle University. Seattle is ranked 14th in the preseason NSCAA poll and beat the Wolverines in penalty kicks in the 2015 WAC championship game.

”It’s hard not to look at those games," Neff said. "Ever since Skyler and I have been here, we haven’t beat them (Seattle). I know that he and I definitely have that circled. In the meantime, we’re going to take it one game at a time, week by week, until we get there, and then we’ll be ready.” Kyle McDonald is an avid sports fan of the Chicago Cubs and the UVU Wolverines. He is currently a communication major at UVU and graduates May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias.

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