With the start of the 2016 season looming for Albion’s men’s soccer team, there have been a lot of changes in the past few months. The team is getting a new field that they will share with the women’s soccer team, as well as the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. Internally, the team has hired new head coach Wytse Molenaar who maintained an impressive .735 winning percentage at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Although a lot has changed for the team, one thing is different; it’s the 50th anniversary of the men’s soccer program here at Albion College.
“It was the first thing he ever said to us,” said Steven Lockhart, a Grosse Pointe Woods senior, when asked if Coach Molenaar mentioned the anniversary. “The first time he ever met with us, he just sat us down and told us it was the 50th season. None of us knew.”
Albion finished their first season (1967) with a 1-7 record. Like most new programs, the first year is always the toughest. However, they bounced back nicely in 1968 with a 6-3-1 record. Although Albion had some winning seasons, they have never won an MIAA championship.
“We’ve had two seasons where we’ve been one win away, and we’ve had a couple of ties that we should’ve won And it’s stuff as easy as that that keeps you out of the playoffs,” said Bobby Budlong, a Canton senior. “We have to leave our mark so future players want to come here.”
The team has seven seniors on their roster this year. According to Budlong and Lockhart, the team had no more than three seniors any of the years since they’ve been here (2013). Even though the team only has four first-year players, both Budlong and Lockhart feel that a winning finish to their careers will set a strong foundation for future teams.
Winning is something that Molenaar knows a thing or two about. In his six seasons with UW-Oshkosh, Molenaar had two conference championships and three NCAA tournament berths. Molenaar led his team to a 20-1-3 record and a co-championship in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) in his first season, something that bodes well for Albion.
After being hired in February, Molenaar said that the transition from UW-Oshkosh has been great coming into the spring practice season and getting to know his players, as well as their goals for where they want to take the program in their first season together.
“He was intense,” Budlong said. “He talked right away about goals, the style of play he liked and what he expects from us in the offseason. He hit the ground running. Oh and his Dutch accent is intimidating.”
Budlong also added that he can see improvements on the field and that his teammates are taking to Molenaar who’s trying to teach them about hard work and dedication.
Most seasons the team schedules an alumni game. However, due to the construction on the new field, it seems that the team won’t be able to play their annual alumni game. According to Budlong and Lockhart, they don’t know of any plans to bring back alumni for any 50th anniversary ceremonies.
Things seem to be happening in the right order for the team. They hired Molenaar in early February, construction for their new field is nearly complete and it’s the team’s 50th anniversary. Looking at the big picture, it’s a significant event that can only benefit the program.
“This is our last chance,” Lockhart said. “We could make excuses in the past but not anymore. We have the stadium, the players, the coach, we have everything. It’s up to us now.”