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Attacking mentality has Wright State men’s soccer off to unbeaten start

Jake Slemker didn’t necessarily want to mess with success in his first season as the Wright State men’s soccer coach, but he also believed he could elevate the program by adopting a new style of play.

He’s instilled in the Raiders an ultra-aggressive approach this fall where even defenders are expected to be involved in the offense.

“We want guys to join the attack. If we’re all attacking, and that’s our sole mentality, then that’s going to lead to more opportunities,” he said.

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“Everyone still has to defend, but we want our players to be super confident and to know that — no matter who they are and what position they are on the field — if we’re all committed to go score a goal, then it’s going to give us more of a chance to do that.”

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The strategy comes with some risks — the Raiders have to scramble back if the ball is kicked over their heads — but it’s led to increased offense and a torrid start this season.

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They’re 5-0-1 and 1-0 in the Horizon League going into a home match with Cleveland State at 2 p.m. Saturday. They’ve scored 13 goals and have given up just seven and are ranked 25th nationally in this week’s Top Drawer Soccer poll.

They finished 10-7-1 last year, their fourth straight season with double-digit wins, while averaging 1.5 goals per outing.

Slemker, a former Northmont and Wright State standout, was an assistant for eight years under Bryan Davis and was promoted in July when Davis decided to leave coaching after 10 years with the Raiders.

Though traditionally a strong program, they’ve never made the NCAA tourney.

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“I’m ready to take this team and push them to a level that they’ve never been before,” Slemker said.

“We prepared for this and wanted to be in this position, but we’re not going to rest at all just because we haven’t lost a game yet.”

Junior Stefan Rokvic was a second-team all-league pick last year and leads the Raiders with four goals. He had a team-high eight goals and 17 points last year.

Juniors Alec Philippe (three goals), Deri Corfe (three goals) and Dietrich Jackson (four assists) also have been major contributors.

Goalkeeper Joel Sundell, a junior from Norrkoping, Sweden, earned second-team all-league honors last season and is off to another strong start, notching a pair of shutouts.

“He’s got all the tools physically and athletically to be a very good goal-keeper — even at the next level,” Slemker said. “We’re just trying to really sharpen his mental aspect of the game this year and his leadership.”

Just like his Raiders, Slemker has had to deal with major change this season. He and wife Kristina welcomed their first child Sept. 8, a six-pound, 10-ounce boy named Kruz.

Slemker said the baby has been a joy, although the timing wasn’t exactly ideal.

“The original plan was to work around the season, but Mother Nature takes control and here we are,” he said with a laugh.

CROSS COUNTRY: Shelby Nolan placed fourth and Victoria Angelopoulos fifth in the Cedarville University Friendship Invitational last weekend, helping the women finish second out of 16 teams. Nathan Dunn was seventh and led the men to a sixth-place showing.

VOLLEYBALL: The Raiders (8-4) had a runner-up finish in Valparaiso’s Crusader Classic last weekend with Jenna Story and Alannah Lemming making the all-tourney team.

They begin league play by hosting Milwaukee at 6 p.m. Friday and UIC at 4 p.m. Saturday.

TENNIS: The men’s team opens the season at the Dayton Flyer Invitational this weekend, while the women will get underway in the Liberty Flames Invitational in Lynchburg, Va.

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