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Men's soccer nets 8 league awards

November 26, 2012

By Stephanie Metzger

Every loss leads to experience gained, and the Cleveland State University men’s soccer team’s loss to the Michigan State Spartans in the 2012 NCAA tournament taught some inimitable lessons.

Last weekend, the Vikings fell to the Spartans 0-2 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After falling behind 0-2 at the half, the Vikings battled to cut the deficit in half, but couldn’t level the score to come back.

Head coach Ali Kazemaini noted that the match was a reflection of the team’s season in its entirety as they started out shaky and crafted a strong revival. He said the team’s early struggles were partly to blame on the natural adjustment to the division-one level required of all players.

“We were sitting at one loss, one tie and not so much confidence,” Kazemaini said. “Then all of a sudden, we had some meetings and did some soul-searching. Come end of September, that’s when everything clicked.”

Things clicked enough to propel the Vikings to the Horizon League championship, where they defeated the Loyola University Ramblers to earn a spot in the NCAA national tournament.

The Vikings waited anxiously to learn who their opponent would be in the first round of the tournament before it was revealed that they were matched against Michigan State. The Spartans were 11-9-1 heading into the tournament, while the Vikings were 11-5-3.

Kazemaini noted his team’s confidence entering the match, explaining that their late-season success gave them recognition as a tough opponent.

“The first thing that was going through our mind was we knew we could play with them,” he said. “This particular team at this time of the year, I don’t think many people wanted to play against us, just because we were playing such a good brand of soccer with a lot of confidence.”

It was the first time the Vikings had reached the tournament since 1980, and the match-up against the Spartans and the team ended up with an 11-6-3 overall record. In addition to their national tournament run, the team also secured the Horizon League title and seven players received league honors.

Three Vikings were named to the All-Horizon First Team. Juniors Admir Suljevic, Aslinn Rodas and Cameron Eisses were named to the team while Eisses was also named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year.

Two players, Brad Stuver and Zach Ellis-Hayden, received Second Team honors and two freshmen, Alfonso Sandoval and Danilo Rdjen, were named to the All-Newcomer team.

Suljevic led the Vikings in points, goals and assists this season, though his award comes as no surprise to Kazemaini.

“Admir [Suljevic] and Aslinn [Rodas] are easy to recognize because they’re such skillful players,” he said. “When you get those types of players, they get a lot of looks just because of the way they handle the ball.”

The biggest surprise to Kazemaini was Eisses.

“Cameron was a surprise,” Kazemaini said. “He went through a lot of adversity in the first half of the year and he kind of got serious and started playing well in a defensive role for us. That’s what we were missing. He responded well and obviously a lot of people took notice of him.”

Least surprising was Stuver, who has received league honors four years running. He has been named to the First Team twice and Second team twice with this year’s award. He was also named league Goalkeeper of the Year during his sophomore season.

“Stuver’s top of the list,” Kazemaini said. “If there’s anything such as a team MVP, I think Stuver should be the one.”

Stuver recorded 81 saves and posted nine clean sheets this season. Kazemaini felt Stuver should have been awarded Goalkeeper of the Year as well, but the coach feels Stuver received an equally prestigious honor.

“I think justice was served for him when he got the MVP of the tournament,” Kazemaini said.

Kazemaini is confident in Stuver’s future, as he feels the goalkeeper has a good shot at going pro. “He’s a great kid, great in the classroom and great on the soccer field. He’s good enough to be professional material and he’d be one of the kids that exemplifies what CSU soccer is all about.”

Cleveland State players weren’t the only ones to receive honors, as Kazemaini was named Horizon League Coach of the Year, an honor which he says reflects upon the program in its entirety, not just himself.

“It’s humbling to have the people recognize what you do and when you’re caught up doing it, you don’t think about those things,” he said. “I’m glad that we won the [Horizon League] tournament so I didn’t let them down.”

The Vikings soccer squad will lose five seniors to graduation, including Stuver, so Kazemaini and the team have some big cleats to fill, but Kazemaini is proud of the standard that this year’s group has set.