Despite having few veterans to lean on as a first-year coach last year, Jake Slemker led the Wright State men’s soccer team to unprecedented heights.
The Raiders won the Horizon League regular-season title for only the second time in school history and climbed as high as No. 11 in the TopDrawSoccer.com national poll.
They returned five players who earned all-conference honors last year and nine of 11 who started at least 13 games. But as Slemker discovered, having virtually a pat hand can present its own set of challenges.
»RELATED: WSU volleyball tops Notre Dame
“Expectations are extremely high — especially after last year’s success. I think that could be a good thing, but going through some tough times and pushing the team to get to a different level, it can be hard in the beginning,” he said.
After going 13-3-3 in 2018, the Raiders, who were picked as the preseason conference favorite, went 0-1-1 in their exhibition matches and then dropped two of their first three regular-season games.
What Slemker saw during the subpar start was some complacency seeping in.
“That’s what we’re dealing with right now. That’s why we put this schedule together,” said Slemker, whose team will face five schools that reached the NCAA tournament last year.
“We’re not going to get any easy games. We’ve seen that already. When we go play teams, we’re going to get their best game. Our guys have to learn it’s not going to be good enough just to show up and have our talent get us a good result. We’re going to have to work a lot harder this year.”
The Raiders (2-2) showed signs of breaking out of their malaise with a 2-0 home win over Cincinnati on Tuesday. And they’ve got the firepower to keep it going.
Alec Philippe was a first-team all-league pick in 2018 after scoring 11 goals, and Stefan Rokvic and Deri Corfe were second-teamers after tallying 10 each. Rokvic has a team-high four goals this season, and Corfe has three goals and an assist.
All three offensive stars have player-of-the-year potential, but Slemker said, “If I had to pick one as having all the mentality we’re looking for, Stefan has shown he’s ready to take on that spotlight this year.”
Jackson Dietrich had 12 assists last year and was first-team all-league, while Joel Sundell was goal-keeper of the year.
But the Raiders are still relatively young — the five all-conference honorees are juniors — and they miss the graduated Dan Bent, the only two-time defensive player of the year in league history. They gave up eight goals in their first three games.
“Without Dan Bent, and his leadership and passion for the game, we’re still trying to figure out (the back end),” Slemker said.
Despite notching their most victories since also getting 13 in 1992, the season ended on a sour note. The Raiders were one win away from their first NCAA bid but lost to UIC, 3-1, in the league tourney finals.
They won’t consider this season a success unless it’s capped off with a postseason berth.
“The expectations are that we’re playing in mid- to late-November and we’re getting into the NCAA tournament,” Slemker said.
VOLLEYBALL: The Raiders (5-1) are off to a rousing start after sweeping three games to win the Xavier Invitational last weekend.
Junior Taylor Gibson had 29 kills and was named tourney MVP, while junior Teddie Sauer (22 kills) and freshman Lainey Stephenson (85 assists and 36 digs) made the all-tourney team.
The Raiders will hold their tourney this weekend with matches against Indiana State at 7 p.m. Friday, Western Illinois at 12:30 Saturday and Toledo at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.