One Team All Green

Men’s Soccer Rolling Into Road Trip, Looking to Stay Atop WAC Standings

Gabriel Mayberry, UVU Marketing

OREM — Perhaps it is having a goalkeeper who is coming off two ACL season-ending injuries back on the pitch. Or maybe it could be having one of your best defenders back that suffered a season-ending broken leg early in the 2018 season. Whatever it is, the Utah Valley University Wolverines men’s soccer team is using it to its full advantage. 

The Wolverines currently sit atop the WAC standings at 5-0. UVU is coming off an impressive home stand with shutout wins over CSU Bakersfield and California Baptist. In fact, UVU has won five of its last six matches. The lone loss came against 6th-ranked Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas on Sept. 22. 

“We’re happy with where things are right now,” UVU head coach Greg Maas said. “We still have a lot of work to get done and improvements to be made. But, we’ve put ourselves in a good spot … we’ve created a lot more opportunities this year … we’re getting good goals, which allows us to play with a little bit more freedom and express ourselves in the matches. Scoring goals changes games. This year we’ve been able to score goals and get production up top, which has been a big difference for us.”

UVU is led by senior forward Blake Frischknecht who leads the WAC with eight goals scored. Frischknecht actually just had a streak of seven straight matches with a goal snapped. The senior forward didn’t score on Saturday night in the Wolverines’ 1-0 win over California Baptist.

“Blake is, without questions, one of the top strikers in the entire country,” Maas said. “Right now, I think he leads the country in game-winning goals. The difference for Blake, this year from last, is he’s healthy. His fitness level, his health has allowed him to get back on stride. It is allowing him to do what he is best known for and that is the ability to score goals.”

UVU has also been rock solid on defense, allowing just one goal in the five wins. Goalkeepers Mitch Jensen and Joseph Wheelwright have allowed 12 goals all season combined. Jensen earned WAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for pitching back-to-back shutouts for the Wolverines over the weekend. Jensen is back in form after dealing with ACL injuries the past two seasons. And Wheelwright adds another level of competitiveness to his teammate, giving UVU perhaps the best tandem of goalkeepers in the country.

“We’re very fortunate to have them,” Maas said. “Not only in matches, but in training sessions. To have great goalkeeping in training sessions forces us to be that much more sharp and focused. Between the two of them, they have a tremendous camaraderie, and work ethic. They continue to challenge and push themselves.

“To have Mitch coming back from injury, shows his resiliency, perseverance, and determination. It’s been an inspiration to the entire team, including Joe. For Joe, he’s really showing his maturity. He’s been fantastic in training and fantastic in games with his leadership. And between the two of them, we feel very fortunate and very confident with our goalkeeper in the back.”

At 8-3-1, UVU is off to its best start since the 2016 season when the Wolverines won the WAC regular season crown. According to Maas, the non-conference schedule slate is full of teams that at one point or another were in the top-25. It was all part of the plan for Maas and the Wolverines. And thus far, in conference play, the difficulty of the non-conference schedule is paying dividends.

UVU goalkeeper Mitch Jensen, fresh off of two ACL injuries, leads the WAC in goals against. (Gabriel Mayberry, UVU Marketing)

With the recent success that has UVU atop the WAC standings, the target sits squarely on the backs of the Wolverines. With a mature, humble group led by captains Aaron Caprio and Mitch Jensen, the mantra of “one game at a time” is a sticking point in the UVU locker room. For those that don’t remember, Caprio suffered a season-ending leg injury early in the 2018 season. Maas refers to Caprio as a ‘Warrior’ and says both Caprio and Jensen are two incredible leaders both on and off the pitch.

“Our depth, our experience, our maturity is starting to show through,” Maas said. “From the onset, we have one goal within this team and that is focusing on the next game. We don’t ever get ahead of ourselves. However, it happens. But this group is different. We’re very humble. We’re very grounded. We take literally our mantra of one game at a time. So, for us, the next most important game is the one on Saturday at Kansas City.”

Taking an opponent for granted is not an option for UVU. Men’s soccer in the WAC is full of parody and anybody can beat anybody on any given day. Remember 2016? UVU went into the WAC tournament as the top seed and lost to Air Force in the WAC semifinals, ending the season for one of the best teams in the nation. So, Maas and UVU know full well that anything can happen, especially with a target on their back.

“One thing I’ve consistently heard is ‘we haven’t arrived, yet’,” Maas said. “Stay focused. Keep our heads down. Work hard. We haven’t arrived yet … we need to put in the work because we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve earned the target on our back. Now that asks for a different type of focus and response from the players. And for us, it’s been very good.”

 

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