The Western Nebraska Community College men’s soccer team are chomping at the bit to get on the field to play a game.
They will get that opportunity this weekend when the Cougar women and men will travel to Great Bend, Kansas, to face Pratt Community College on Saturday and Barton Community College on Sunday.
“I think excitement would be a conservative word. I think they are chomping at the bit to get out on the field and see what the team will look like for the season,” WNCC coach Todd Rasnic said. “At this point, there is still improvement that can occur with the men’s team but they do have a couple attributes this year. I think they are very disciplined this year. I think they understand how to play at the right speed and understand how to play with intensity. Those are key components, in my mind, to having a successful year. The unfortunate part is we don’t know any of that until we see competition. These first two games will give us an idea where we are at and where we need to go moving forward.”
This year’s team has all the make up to be just as good as or better than the 2014 team that won 10 matches.
“I have been consistent all year with the men’s team and I have told them there is a lot of talent on this team, but talent doesn’t win games,” Rasnic said. “Talent is one thing; knowing how to use your talent in a team environment that wins games. It was nice in 2014 when we had an Ivan Sakou, who was a special player that you could rely on to create for you when no one else could. But one injury removes that one player and you are left with the balance of the group. If all of those players don’t know how to pick up the slack and then you are not really a complete team. That is the difference this year. In each position, we have a little bit of depth that we can to the bench and bring in players playing at the same level. That will give us a little bit more advantage.”
Rasnic doesn’t know where to begin with the talent on this year’s team. First off, the talent starts with the 12 returning players. Many of those returners saw plenty of action last season.
A big returner is back-up goalkeeper Bryant Velasquez of Puerto Rico, who played this summer for his under-20 national team. That Puerto Rico team even played the United States in an exhibition match.
The Cougars also have two local players returning. Gage Smith and Travis Mundell, both Gering High graduates, who will be looked upon to provide some leadership.
Also returning to the Cougar lineup are Alfredo Velasquez; Matheus Campos, JP Santos, Guilherme Oliveria, Matheus Ricardo, Felipe Cardosa, Billy Hoffmann, Sergio Moreno, and Omar Ceesay.
Besides the returning sophomores, the Cougars have a talented freshmen group. The newcomers are led by the Scottsbluff High trio of Eseah Ingram, Jackson Thomas, and Owen Parra. The three helped the Bearcats to the district soccer title and a sub-state appearance last May. All three earned Scottsbluff Star-Herald all-region first team soccer honors. Ingram was named the Star-Herald’s Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Other freshman on the team include Adrian Veliz Smith of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Smith was a standout player at Rocky Mountain High School. The Cougars also have Andre Matzuda of Lima, Peru, ready to make an impact.
The rest of the newcomers include Franny Gonzales, Cody McConville, Manuel Escalera, Lawan Abary, Daniel Mitchell, Madou Jallow, Chit Oo, and Raphael Batista.
“There is quite a list of players standing out,” Rasnic said. “I could give a list of 10 guys that are really playing at a better collegiate level than some of the players we had here in the past. It is not that they are better players, it is they play with more intensity and heart and that has really changed the outlook for us.”
After this weekend’s matches, the Cougar men will bounce into Region play with a trip to Northeastern Junior College on Sept. 9 and then a trip to Columbus to face Central Community College on Sept. 10.
The Cougars first home matches are slated for Sept. 16 and 17 when they host Sheridan on Friday and Northwest Wyoming on Saturday.