After a disappointing season last year that culminated in a sixth-place Ivy League finish, the men’s soccer team will try to rebound this year. One key piece for the team will be senior defenseman Nick Alers ’14, an All-Ivy performer in each of his first three seasons at Yale. During the offseason, Alers received a nomination for the Senior CLASS award, the NCAA’s most significant award given to graduating seniors. The award considers play on the field and contributions to the classroom and community off of it. The News spoke with Alers about the outlook on the Bulldogs’ season, the Senior CLASS award nomination and the team’s goals for the year.
Q: You guys had your first game of this season, a 2–0 loss to Fordham. Were there any real takeaways from this game?
A: Yeah. [It is] very disappointing to begin the season with a loss, but I think that the way that we lost was somewhat encouraging. I thought that a lot of the chances that they had were the result of our mental lapses, and that’s kind of encouraging because those are things that we can fix. And at the same time, offensively, we had a lot of chances and we were very close to scoring on numerous occasions and that’s also encouraging because we didn’t see that as much last year. So it was really disappointing to come away with a loss, particularly because it was a game that we definitely were in and we controlled and felt that we should’ve won, but I think the good thing going forward is that we are creating chances and we’re continuing to create more chances than we did last year offensively.
Q: You mentioned that the offense is creating more chances than last year. There were definitely points in the season last year when the team struggled to score. Are you guys doing anything different or is it just a matter of the guys getting another year of experience?
A: I think a combination of the two. I think we’re looking to play a little bit more direct than we did last year, and we’re really focusing on giving our forwards better service — looking to find them earlier and looking to find them more often to give them every opportunity that they need to do their job and get goals. And on top of that I think we do have a couple of good additions to the squad. I think one freshman, Cameron Kirdzik ’17, has been really impressive so far and had a real promising start to his season last Friday. I think Henos Musie ’16, a guy from Sweden who’s coming in as a transfer, who’s a sophomore, can also provide us with a little bit of creativity. So I think just the combination of us focusing on providing our attacking players with more and better service, and the addition of a couple of new threats — we also welcome back Cody Wilkins ’14, a senior who’s been out the past two years with an injury … he and Cam kind of bring an element of athleticism to our attack that we’ve been missing in years past.
Q: On the defensive side, the most obvious loss is Bobby Thalman ’13, your star goalkeeper who graduated last year. Is there anything that the team feels that it has to do differently without him back there to clean up any lapses, or is the plan to stick to the same game plan as last year —a game plan which churned out the third best goals against average in the Ivy League?
A: I think we’re sticking to the same game plan. I think [starting goalkeeper Blake Brown ’15] has been doing a really good job and he’s more than capable of filling Bob’s shoes. I think one kind of different thing is actually Milan [Tica ‘13] graduating is a big — not a big issue, but he also provided a lot of physicality in our defense and we’re kind of adjusting to his loss too. I think we kind of have a little bit of a different look — we’re not as big defensively with someone like Milan no longer in the back line, so that’s definitely something that we’re still adjusting to. But I think with regards to the goalkeeping situation, I think Blake’s been doing a great job and definitely we’re looking for him to have a great year.
Q: Before the season, you were named a candidate for the Senior CLASS award. It’s a big national honor — what does that mean to you?
A: It definitely was a pleasant surprise to start the year. I definitely put a lot of work both into soccer and my schoolwork, so it was nice to see that recognized. But I’m definitely not one who’s big on individual honors, so I’m definitely going to play hard and continue to try to do well off the field, but I think the most important thing for me this upcoming year is finally getting an Ivy League Championship to close out my Yale soccer career.
Q: It sounds like you have your goal for this year’s team already in mind, but do you have any other personal or team goals for the upcoming season?
A: Yeah, I think definitely Ivy League Championship and going to the NCAA tournament is the team’s goal that I think we’re all working to. On a personal note I think that I definitely want to make my presence felt this year in the Ivy League. I think that I kind of have been dealing with some injuries since I had a strong sophomore year, and I think having another year like that where I’m first team All-Ivy and recognized as one of the better defenders in the Ivy League — I think getting back to that point is something that’s been motivating me ever since I kind of fell into a spell of injury troubles.