Tigers control their own destiny
Published on -10/23/2012, 10:23 AM
By KLINT SPILLER
The Fort Hays State University men's soccer team controls its own destiny in the final weeks of the season, and second-year head coach Brett Parker said he wouldn't have it any other way.
The Tigers (10-4-2) are neck and neck in the NCAA Division II Central region rankings with post-season eligible teams Northeastern State University (9-3-3) and Truman State University (9-5-1). The top two teams out of the region qualify for the national tournament. Regular-season MIAA champion Lindenwood University (10-2-3) isn't eligible for the national postseason since the Lions recently transitioned to Division II.
If FHSU wins its final regular-season game Friday against Southern Nazarene University at FHSU Soccer Stadium and its semifinal game of the MIAA Tournament, then it likely would lock up a spot in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
"We want to keep it in our hands and take care of it on our end and not worry about having to get help to get in," Parker said.
Senior forward Tomas Mares said to finish the season strong after all the adversity the Tigers have faced this season "would be pretty amazing."
FHSU lost four would-be opening day starters to season-ending injuries during the off season and regular season, and the injuries happened at every level of the team.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Pakieser dislocated one of his fingers and required surgery. Sophomore center back Carlos Linares broke his foot midway through the season, and sophomore midfielder Jaccob Rangel suffered a lower leg condition that ended his season.
The Tigers' most significant loss happened during the spring when their top scorer from 2011, forward Ricardo Yeverino, required knee surgery. Yeverino was a first-team all-region selection last season, posting 15 goals and five assists. The next highest goal scorer for FHSU had five goals.
Mares said he felt the pressure to step up.
"When I found out Ricardo went down, I was like, 'Now I knew I had to step up and, somewhat, be a leader,' " Mares said. "But it was really hard knowing one of our best players was down. It was a big change."
The Tigers' strikers have more than made up for Yeverino. FHSU has created a three-headed scoring monster with Mares, junior forward Daniel Peralta and sophomore midfielder Diego Cabral. Through 16 matches, the trio already has scored as many goals as the top three scorers did for last year's team in 18 matches.
Mares and Peralta are tied for the team lead with nine, and Cabral has scored seven.
Last season, Peralta redshirted, and Mares and Cabral each scored five.
"We are playing a different style," Mares said. "Last year, we would play through Ricardo, and hopefully he would do something with the ball. Now that we don't have him, we have to find alternatives to score. Somehow, we've managed to do that."
Peralta said Parker's new recruiting class has helped make up for the losses.
Freshmen forwards Michael Cole (five goals, three assists) and Austin Clifton (three goals, four assists) have provided valuable minutes up front, and junior college transfer Emmanual Brown has played big as an outside defender.
"I think as a collective unit we were better, so I think that helped us make up for it," Peralta said.
Losing Yeverino has had a significant impact on Cabral. They formed a tight chemistry last season and helped boost each other's performances on the field. They also are friends off the field, where they are roommates.
Last season, Cabral was third in NCAA Division II in assists with 12, and he earned All-American honors. However, six of his 12 assists went to Yeverino, and two of his five goals were assisted by Yeverino.
"When he's on the field, I know where he's going to move," Cabral said. "I just have to put the ball in the right place, and he's going to be there, he's going to win the ball and he's going to score."
Without Yeverino, Cabral's assists have dropped. He has just four assists through 16 matches, but he said he's not concerned about his numbers. All he cares about is doing what's best for his team to win.
"I can't put up so many numbers this year, but as a leader, I've grown up a lot," Cabral said.
If FHSU and Truman State each win their finales against Southern Nazarene (2-15) and Upper Iowa University (3-12), respectively, then FHSU will play conference champion Lindenwood in the first round of the MIAA Tournament.
Lindenwood defeated the Tigers 1-0 on Sept. 27 at FHSU Soccer Stadium.
Mares said he wants to avenge that loss.
"I'm looking forward to that," Mares said. "That's who I wanted to play -- either them or Truman (who also defeated FHSU by one goal). We lost to them, and we shouldn't have lost. But that's how soccer goes. One minute, we are tied, and one minute, we are down."