Wright State men’s soccer: Slemker seeing positive signs after rough start

Wright State's Joe Kouadio prepares to shoot during a match against Bradley earlier this season. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

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Wright State's Joe Kouadio prepares to shoot during a match against Bradley earlier this season. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

FAIRBORN — Wright State men’s soccer coach Jake Slemker isn’t one to ease into the Horizon League season, preferring a schedule with plenty of bite before tackling the games that truly matter.

The Raiders have lost to No. 7 Akron, No. 14 Kentucky and defending MAC champ Bowling Green by a combined score of 13-1.

Slemker’s approach, though, hasn’t failed him yet. The Raiders won the 2018 regular-season league crown in his first year and the 2019 tourney title — while also notching the program’s first NCAA win that season by knocking off Notre Dame.

“These are good learning moments,” he said. “It makes us better.

“It was tough to play two of them in the first week when we weren’t really prepared, but it gives us hope later on in the year. We can look back on those games and use what we learned.”

The Raiders are off to a 2-4 start — and not just because of the meaty schedule.

They were forced to go through COVID protocols that left them without 11 players in a 1-0 loss at IUPUI, which was picked to finish last in the conference.

But they may be starting to apply those early-season lessons. After scoring just three goals in their first five matches, they erupted offensively against Green Bay last weekend in a 3-1 home win.

“We’ve got a lot of new young pieces, and it’s going to take them some games, but they’re starting to get their legs underneath them and figure out the college game,” Slemker said.

A pair of freshmen, Carroll product Conner Osterhalt and Portugal native Sandro Branquinho, scored goals against the Phoenix.

Two more, Saul Fernandez of Spain and Nate Erre of Upper Arlington, are regulars on defense.

Freshmen figured to have a harder time than usual fitting in this season. All 2020-21 athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility because of COVID, meaning most lineups are populated with fifth-year seniors.

The Raiders have five players who took advantage of that rule.

“Some of our older guys are slower to get back into it. I think they’ve got some of that fifth-year senioritis, and they need to sharpen up a little bit and demand more from themselves and the team,” said Slemker, who has a 30-18-7 career record.

One veteran doing his part is Joe Kouadio, a native of London, England, who made second team all-league last season. He’s already got two goals, one fewer than last season.

“We’re expecting big things from him. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be a threat to score every game,” Slemker said.

The Raiders finished 5-3-1 against a conference-only schedule for the 2020 season, which was played last spring. They were picked fifth in the HL preseason poll and are 1-1 going into a trip to Northern Kentucky on Saturday.

Oakland is the favorite, while Milwaukee, the spring tourney champ, was picked second.

“The league is always tough,” Slemker said. “Even in ‘18, when we ran away with the title, every game was a battle.

“I don’t think there’s a team that can blow everyone out, and I don’t think there’s a team that can’t win. Every game is going to be huge.”

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