Lexington, Ky. – Following a second straight trip to the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Tournament, the Transylvania men's soccer team will look to further bolster its position among the best programs in the nation under the guidance of head coach Matt Vogel in 2019.
Last season, the Pioneers found themselves fighting through adversity early in the year. A slow start saw Transylvania finish the season with an overall record of 8-5-6, the team's lowest mark since the 2015 regular season.
However, the Pioneers rallied to go undefeated over the final seven regular-season games and went on to claim the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament crown for the second consecutive year via two thrilling penalty kick victories over Rose-Hulman and Hanover. Transylvania reclaimed its spot in the NCAA Tournament where they eventually bowed out with a tight 1-0 defeat to Carleton in the first round.
Despite the team's early-season struggles, Vogel found solace in the knowledge his side gleaned from their experiences on the pitch. "Last year taught us some tough lessons," reflects Vogel. "We were letting early-season results impact our mentality and our performance, which made things more difficult for us down the stretch. Life will deal us setbacks, but we need to have an attitude of learning, which will help us get better."
No longer satisfied with merely qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the Pioneers now have their sights set on the goal of advancing deep into the tournament in 2019.
"We have set long-term goals that are more than making it back to the NCAA tournament," remarks Vogel. "We'd like to win some games while we are there, so this team has been working hard towards that end. The work that the guys put in during the summer will be an indicator of just how serious we are in accomplishing these goals."
This season, Transylvania will boast a lineup that features nine returning starters, including the duo of seniors Alex Shkraba and Charlie Wend, who combined to tally 20 points on the year. As a focal point in the Pioneers' offense, Shkraba led the team with six goals and an assist last season.
The Pioneers also welcome back senior goalkeeper Drew Grisham following an electrifying 2018 season in which he tallied 63 saves and led the HCAC with a .808% save percentage. Grisham, a three-time HCAC Defensive Player of the Week honoree, also collected a season-high 10 saves in the HCAC Tournament championship match versus Hanover on November 3.
In addition to the numerous upperclassmen returning to Lexington, the Pioneers will also welcome eight freshmen into the fold for the 2019 season, five of whom hail from the Bluegrass. "This group is a talented, well-rounded group that provides versatility and adds a new dimension to the team," remarks Vogel. "It will be exciting to see how they will integrate into the team, and I look forward to what they will accomplish during their four years here in Lexington."
As the Pioneers charge through their schedule and towards the postseason, they will face a slew of challenges beginning with five straight road games to open the season. Transylvania's competition also features three teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, including National Runner-up Calvin.
"We play some of the very best teams in the country this year," says Vogel. "These games will test us and give us an idea of where we need to be at the end of the season and prepare us for HCAC play where every game is important."
The season gets underway this Friday, August 30 as Transylvania travels to Altoona, Pennsylvania to face the Penn State Altoona Lions. First touch between the Pioneers and the Lions is set for 6:00 p.m. at Spring Run Stadium.
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