ABOVE: Josh Walker, senior midfielder, Mohamed Tall, sophomore center-back, and Emanuel Rodriguez, junior midfielder, maintains focus while scrimmaging at practice. Rodriguez dribbles the ball center field before passing to Tall. (Daegiona Wilson/Staff photographer)

By Kaleb Vining
Staff reporter

As fall approaches, so does the season opener for men’s soccer.

Southwestern will open up their season at home this Saturday, Sept. 5. The season opener has them pitted against Oklahoma Wesleyan University, who was voted No. 1 for the 2020 KCAC men’s soccer preseason poll.

Men’s soccer is coming off a 10-9 record in the 2019 season, where they finished 6-6 in conference play. Oklahoma Wesleyan will undoubtedly be a tough matchup. The Eagles finished 15-3 in the 2019 regular season and left their mark on the conference with an 11-1 record.

Kyle Pond, the head men’s soccer coach, had great things to say about this year’s team. “The guys look really good right now, especially after only a few weeks of practice. We are feeling as good as ever.”

The biggest hit to the men’s soccer roster will be the loss of Ram Keller, former forward. He led in goals scored and total assists last season. Pond said that he will be their biggest piece that is missing. However, despite the loss of arguably their best player last season, Pond is very confident in the talent that he has this year.

“We’ve got somewhere between six and eight starters who didn’t start for us last year. We almost look like an entirely different team.”

While the men’s soccer team has several newcomers, Pond is expecting big things from his returning players. “We have two really good goalkeepers which will be a massive upgrade for us,” said Pond. Kobina Coker, junior defender, and Lucas Travis, senior forward, are expected to make a big impact this year as well said Pond.

While the upperclassmen are expected to make a big impact this year, so are the freshmen. Pond said they will have two or three freshmen that will have a big impact and are expected to play a lot of minutes.

Pond also said that it will be tough going against the No. 1 team to open the season. However, the Moundbuilders will not be backing down against this goliath of an opponent.

“We want to be bold and brave against any team, so we have focused a lot on offense. We intend to put them under pressure and put it in the back of the net,” said Pond.

This will be Pond’s sixth season as head coach. Other members of the coaching staff include third year Assistant Men’s Soccer Coach Lewis Derrett and Lee Howart, who is in his first year as an assistant coach.

Derrett is excited for this upcoming season and is expecting great things from the team. He said that Coach Pond has been brilliant and that the team is looking great this year.

There were no preseason scrimmages this year due to COVID, so both teams will be looking to see how ready they are for the upcoming season. There is a lot of preparation that has gone into this year’s season due to COVID.

Men’s soccer has put an emphasis on social distancing during practice, washing practice jerseys constantly and controlling who they are around outside of the team. The team also plans on controlling group size when they travel and staying spread out on the bench during games.

The coaching staff is very excited for this tough matchup. Not only that, but the players are as well. Josh Walker, senior midfielder, is very enthusiastic for this upcoming game and the way he described emotions of himself and teammates really sets the tone for this upcoming game.

“I am really excited for the game.” said Walker. “The guys are starting to gel a little bit and things are going pretty well so far.”

Walker also said that the masks have made things a lot different this year in terms of COVID. However, he is happy to see how responsible his teammates and coaches are being with the new protocol that is in effect.

Men’s soccer will be looking to start this season off with a bang by taking down this tough opponent at home.