Column: Men’s soccer poised for winning season

Mark Shanahan, Assistant Sports Editor

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The wins have been hard to come by in the past few years for the men’s soccer team here at Eastern, but stability in the coaching staff could soon put those losing seasons in the past.

The Panthers have not had a winning record or have made it to a conference tournament since 2007, where they won 12 games. They have consistently struggled away from Lakeside Field since 2012, having only won three of 36 road games.

Kiki Lara, who is the Director of Soccer, is heading into his second season and was able to win two matches on the road in his first season. They had been winless on the road in the previous season.

Lara is returning another fairly young team, but has now been able to install his style of play with more players familiar with it. For the seniors on this roster it is the third head coach they have played for in their time here at Eastern.

Luckily for the Panthers, they have junior Justin Oliver returning who provided all of the offense in the three exhibition games this season. Oliver netted six goals in three games, including a hat trick against a Drake team who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

Oliver had three total goals in his first two seasons so it looks like he is about to take off and provide a spark for the offense each game. Sophomore Trevor Kerns had the most goals last season by returning players with three goals and eight points. They will, however, miss Justin’s twin Tyler Oliver who was the teams leading scorer last season.

Junior Zach Medawattage will lead the Panther defense this season. He started in 14 of the 15 games played last season logging in 1,289 minutes of play. Medawattage was named a “Player to Watch” in the Summit League this year, which is voted on by the leagues coaches.

Junior goalkeeper Mike Novotny is going to play a major role for the team this year if he keeps up the progression he has made each season. Novotny made 75 saves last season and that was the most by an Eastern goalkeeper since 2010. He heads into this season as eighth all-time for Eastern in minutes, saves and games in goal.

Eastern has 21 players returning along with 10 new players added to the roster to build on. The Summit League has many good teams in it, but with Novotny keeping them close in each game, they have the chance to pull off some upsets and sneak into the league tournament.

Overall, there is a lot of potential on this roster to succeed starting now. The begin with tough conference games against the top three teams, but finish against IPFW, Western Illinois and IUPUI who are all beatable teams for the Panthers. In the next couple of year this team will find itself in the league tournament at the end of the season.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]