Manchester Mens soccer Wittenberg game
Manchester men’s soccer team huddles up, determined to keep their spirits high for the remainder of the season.
Photo provided by MU Athletics

Men’s Soccer Team Starts Well, Faces Challenging Lineup

Tristen Bronaugh

The Manchester men’s soccer team has been battle-tested throughout the first quarter of the season as they prepare to compete for an HCAC conference title.

Soccer season is officially underway and there have been many changes from last year. The men’s soccer program graduated seven seniors in spring 2022; however, they have added double that in recruits. The program welcomed 15 first-year players along with two transfer students from Bethel and Wittenberg University.

“As we bring in new players and graduate seniors the team dynamic is always changing,” said head coach Chad Brookes. “This year the group has established a very inclusive but competitive environment during both training and games.” This is Brookes’s second year as head coach; alongside him is new assistant coach Nic Ranieri.

As the early season started and the team’s training started to ramp up, four athletes stepped into the leadership roles: seniors Elliot Mozingo and Chris Gerken, followed by juniors Noah Black and Julian Keough. These four players were named captains for the team’s 2022–2023 season.

The Spartans played quality competitions during the preseason, drawing in a scrimmage with Wabash College. As the season began the tough competition didn’t go away. The season opener was on Sept. 1 against Rockford University, which ended in a draw. It was an even game back and forth; neither team could seem to get the ball in the back of the net. Though the game ended in a draw it was a good showcase for the Spartans’ first year goalie Aaron Ketchmark, who had three key saves.

After the season opener, the Spartans packed their bags and went on two straight road games. The first road game was Sept. 3 against a tough Illinois Tech team that ended in a 3-0 loss. The next road game was Sept. 6 against Grace Christian College which ended in a close 2-1 loss. After the tough road games, the Spartans were finally able to come back home for their next two fixtures.

Their first game back was against a tough Wittenberg defense. Manchester got on the board first by drawing a penalty kick in the 30th minute of the first half. The penalty kick was taken by captain Noah Black. Wittenberg responded quickly with a goal making it 1-1 going into halftime.

As the second half started it was a tight game, both defenses were not allowing the other team to get through. Eventually, however, Wittenberg managed to get another goal in the back of the net.

As the game wound down and things started to look bad for the Spartans, Black ripped a shot in the 83rd minutes that left the goalie frozen, making the final score 2-2. That was Black’s third goal in the last three games, which earned him HCAC player of the week.

“My whole life I haven’t really scored much since I play defense,” Black said. “It feels really good; I wasn’t expecting to win player of the week, but it wasn’t about me getting the spotlight. For me, it’s about us succeeding as a team and getting recognized.”

The Spartans’ next game was a day later against Alma College. The Spartans played through drastic weather conditions the entirety of the match; however, that wasn’t going to stop them. Through the downpour, Keough set up sophomore Ian Browron for an open goal. The Spartans hung together and were able to keep Alma scoreless, claiming their first victory. This was the best showing that the Spartans have had so far this season.

What was team morale like after the win? “Our spirits are high,” Black said. “After the two losses, we had a team meeting and talked about what needs to change and had a little reset. After that, the energy of the team was just different. People were ready to dig in and put the work in and it’s paying off.”

After the win, the Spartans took a quick trip up to Fort Wayne to play an undefeated Saint Francis team. The Spartans battled hard against the skilled Saint Francis players and fell to the Cougars 5-0. The men continued to head farther up north to Angola to play Trine University. It was another tough game for the Spartans as they fell 5-0 to the Thunder.

As the Spartans move forward in their season the level of competition only increases: playing the high-level teams will prepare them for the start of conference play. In the preseason expected standings, the men were predicted to place sixth out of the 10 teams in the HCAC.

“I think we can do pretty well in the conference; last season was kind of rough for us so we got placed a lot lower in the expected standing” Black said. “That’s going to be motivation for us going into conference. I believe we should beat the teams lower than us and the teams they put higher than us. The games against Rose and Transy will still be difficult, but I believe we will put up a battle against them.”

A few players to watch throughout the remainder of the season are midfielders Julian Keough, Ruben Gonzalez, and Matt Brown; forward Kory Mitchell and defender Noah Black. The Spartans kick off their conference play on Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. against Defiance. Live stream will be provided by the official website of Manchester University Athletics.