PREVIEW: Del Rio Coaching Era Begins as Bruin Men’s Soccer Seeks to Climb in NWC
NEWBERG, Ore. - With 17 letter winners and eight starters returning, new George Fox University men’s soccer coach Luis Del Rio, a proven winner at Woodburn (Ore.) High School, has a solid nucleus around which to begin re-establishing the Bruin men’s soccer program as a force with which to be reckoned in the rugged Northwest Conference.
The Bruins are coming off a 2-15-1 campaign in 2011, including a 0-13-1 conference record that landed them in eighth place in the league for the fourth straight time. It has been 10 years since the team finished on the plus side of the ledger, and Del Rio is making no promises that the streak will end this year - but he is optimistic that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“How we play the game in more important right now than the final result,” Del Rio cautions, “but I like the potential in this group. They have been working hard, willing to change to a new system, and doing what it takes to learn how to win games. Eventually, that is going to pay off.”
In his three years at Woodburn, Del Rio guided the program to a 51-4 record and state championships in 2010 and 2011. He may not be an instant winner in his new assignment, but his track record suggests that it may not be long before the Bruins become a team that the conference can no longer take lightly.
The Bruins’ biggest problem in recent seasons has been largely a matter of putting the ball into the net, but the situation took a giant step toward improvement last year with the rapid emergence of forward Luke Hammer (So., Roseburg, Ore. / Roseburg HS). With seven goals scored and 15 total points, Hammer tied for fourth in the NWC in goals and ranked 10th in points, earning honorable mention All-Conference recognition.
“Luke is obviously a very talented young man,” admits Del Rio, “and we want him to continue his offensive production, but we also will be trying to develop a ‘team’ environment, not one that focuses on just one goal scorer. It is too easy to shut down a lone scorer. We want to find some other forwards, and midfielders as well, who will all do their part to provide us with goals.”
Del Rio will look for an increased output from returning starter Sawyer Meek (Jr., Canby, Ore. / Canby HS), who was second on team in points with six, scoring two goals and passing for two assists. Andrew Van der Werff (Jr., Redding, Calif. / Redding Christian HS) returns to the fore after missing all of last season with an injury, and newcomer Angelo Florez (Fr., Hubbard, Ore. / North Marion HS) begins his college career after part-time studies abroad at Webster University in Austria.
Luke Dickens (So., Cashmere, Wash. / Cashmere HS), primarily a midfielder, may also be utilized at times as a forward to take advantage of his aggressiveness near the goal. He scored one goal and added one assist for three points last fall.
At the center midfield positions, Brandon Zebarth (Jr., Des Moines, Wash. / Seattle Christian HS) and Myles Sorokovsky (So., Wilsonville, Ore. / Wilsonville HS) are returning starters. Zebarth took 11 shots but did not score, while Sorokovsky had a pair of goals on the season.
“I like my center mids to be offensive-minded,” Del Rio stresses, “and Brandon and Myles are certainly capable of getting a few goals for us. We also have Kane Ransom (Jr., Newberg, Ore. / Newberg HS) back after sitting out a year; he is a passer with good vision who likes to serve the ball to the forwards.”
In addition to Dickens as an outside midfielder, Del Rio can call upon returning starter Luke Andrew (Jr., Enumclaw, Wash. / Enunclaw HS), and veterans Joseph Byrnes (Sr., Providence,Utah / Mountain Crest HS) and Golf Brooks (Jr., Oak Harbor, Wash. / Oak Harbor HS). Erik Davies (So., Vancouver, Wash. / Evergreen HS) is a versatile player who appeared in 14 games last year as both a midfielder and a defender.
Speedy newcomer Gabe Louthan (Fr., Dayton, Ore. / Western Mennonite HS) is expected to fill the wings on a regular basis. Evan Cooney (Fr., Eugene, Ore. / Marist HS) and Dillon Whitham (Fr., Grants Pass, Ore. / Grants Pass HS) are also available for midfield duty, with Whitham possibly being used as a forward at times as well.
“I believe we’re in the right spot offensively, but we do have more work to do defensively and will try to put more emphasis on that in the days ahead,” says Del Rio.
Keys to the Bruins’ defensive line are starting center backs Sean Jany (Sr., North Bend, Ore. / North Bend HS) and Steven Haga (Jr., Creswell, Ore. / Marist HS). Veterans who appeared in nine or more games last year and should see significant playing time in 2012 include Conor Ike (Sr., Accra, Ghana), Andrew Vasilauskas (Sr., OceanPark, Me.), Jacob Guckenberger (Jr., Eugene, Ore. / Marist HS) , and Taran Girard (Jr., Waikoloa, Hawai’i / Makualani HS).
Returning to the Bruins after playing in 2009 and 2010 but sitting out last year is Gustavo Moreno-Vela (Jr., Woodburn, Ore. / Woodburn HS), who gives the team some good outside speed. Completely new to the Bruins are Hugh Rountry (Fr., Olympia, Wash. / Timberline HS), who can also play the middle, Josh Scarth (Fr., Arlington, Wash. / Arlington HS), and Austin Fish (Fr., Spokane, Wash. / Freeman HS).
Del Rio likes his “dynamic duo” in the net with the experienced Elliott Davis (Sr., Canby, Ore. / Canby HS) and rookie Luis Angel Del Rio (Fr., Woodburn, Ore. / Woodburn HS), the coach’s son. Davis paced the NWC in saves with 82 in 2011.
“Elliott and Luis Angel play different styles as keepers,” notes Del Rio, “but we feel comfortable that both can handle anything that comes at us. Elliott is a savvy veteran who positions himself well and makes good decisions. Luis Angel is rangier and gets to balls with long arms; he has played for championship teams on both the high school and club team levels.”
Providing a third net-minder if needed is Arlo Powell (So.,Rexburg, Idaho / Madison HS), who saw playing time in three matches last year.
“I like the effort our players have put into the new system; they are all smart and have learned it quickly,” says Del Rio. “Obviously there were going to be changes moving from one coach to the next, but the returning players have assimilated themselves well. Our new players all have good skills and just need experience in the system to contribute.
“I think the key to our success will be to spread the field and keep the ball moving constantly to counter the physicality of the other teams in our league. We will also try to make good use of our center mids with our forwards in a 4-4-2 system, aggressive on offense but ready to get back quickly on defense as well. If we can do those things, our competitive level will definitely rise.”
Aiding Del Rio as he establishes a new era of George Fox soccer are a trio of new assistant coaches. Jose Milian and Rogelio Serrano helped Del Rio at Woodburn and will team up with the Bruins’ new mentor again. Serrano, who played with Del Rio in various soccer leagues, will work primarily with the goalkeepers. Tony Zamora, a former Bruin player who graduated in 2010, gives the staff some ties to the past as a volunteer coach this fall.
The Bruins open the 2012 season at home against the Oregon Institute of Technology of the Cascade Collegiate Conference on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 7:00 p.m. at the Austin Sports Complex. The game will be part of a doubleheader, with the Bruin women taking on Oregon Tech’s women in a 5:00 p.m. preliminary.
The men’s non-conference slate also includes home games against two other CCC teams, Northwest University and Northwest Christian University, along with two neutral-site games against Colorado College and Trinity Lutheran College that will both be staged at the University of Puget Sound. The Bruins’ 14-game Northwest Conference schedule begins on Sept. 15 at Pacific Lutheran University.