It was another 6 a.m. wakeup for the Duquesne Men’s Soccer Team and as several cell phone alarms went off at once, freshman forward Maxi Hopfer was first to rise with several teammates close behind.
Hopfer tried to survey the room, and there was no consensus whether to laugh or cry as the Dukes hurried to beat the sunrise for another early-morning practice at Rooney Field.
“Preseason is hard, there is nothing more you can say,” he said. “Every day it was sleeping, practicing and eating. I felt like a robot everyday. We hope it pays off in the end. We do all the stuff for those moments.”
But what is it that keeps the team going?
“The love for soccer and that time in the locker room together,” said Hopfer. “You can see right now I am smiling and to stand here right now and have people in the stands, we love to see it. It’s the most beautiful thing. We score and a goal and start running to celebrating together, nothing is describable with those things.”
Indeed, the team’s two exhibition contests against Detroit Mercy and California University of Pennsylvania allowed the team to have fun, display more of a killer mentality and play with some confidence.
Ninth-year coach Chase Brooks believes the team is taking the right steps, and is encouraged heading into Thursday evening’s season-opening contest against third-ranked Pitt.
“We’ve spent a lot of time together in preseason by design,” Brooks stated. “We were so isolated last year in certain situations, and this is what college soccer is all about. We want to step on the field and win but these guys are going to develop relationships for the rest of their lives.”
MIND OVER MATTER
Duquesne was tied for 10th place with George Mason in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, though by no means does that discourage this team.
“I think this group can do big things this year,” Brooks said. “This is a very motivated group. That’s one of the things I am most excited about. Really for us, it’s finding that little extra edge, showing them that they are capable of so much more than they believe they are.”
According to senior captain Ryan Landry, mental strength has been what the team has worked on as regular season play commences.
Though exhibitions do not count towards season statistics, Duquesne conceded a goal in the second half, but within 90 seconds it responded with a tally of its own.
Landry noted the quick adjustment is a noteworthy improvement from year’s past and believes
“It’s coming together as a family and determine when we need to go forward and when we need to wait on the ball and sit back,” said Landry. “It’s a learning process that will grow as we keep playing games.”
For his part, Hopfer believes the team will grow each minute it is on the pitch together. With each practice, and even disagreements, he opines that it will help build relationships and step together.
Hopfer understands that the path ahead will not always be easy but as long as progress is made, Duquesne can move forward.
EARN YOUR SPOT
Borrowing a page from the English National Team, Brooks stated that time on the pitch in games is always up for grabs and that comes down to having “high performance and low maintenance”.
He stated that the battles are always ongoing and that is communicated, something which provides more urgency in practices.
Duquesne was young last year in a COVID-shortened campaign which saw a 2-5-0 mark and an area which needed improved was the defense.
Last season, Duquesne was outscored 16-5 and totaled two goals in the final four matches. Additionally opponents fired 46.3% of its shot on goal, which tested goalkeeper Domenic Nascimben often.
During Duquesne’s two exhibition contests, its lone repeated mistake was playing short on a throw in and not getting back to the ball quick enough. The two instances this happened both resulted in goals.
Even so, the defense has shown more maturity, and Landry has been placed with his team’s efforts in the back.
“The defense is answering the call better than last year,” Landry said. “It’s still a work in progress but with spring we have a lot of guys playing college soccer for the first time. It’s a learning experience for everyone, so as we keep going I think we’ll be good.”
Though Duquesne is young, Landry is encouraged that it can go on a run and the A-10 preseason rankings only proved what he already knew. That not many people expect Duquesne to compete this season, and he definitely has taken mental notes.
“This is a good group of guys and I’ve enjoyed being around every single one of them,” he said. “We’re all on the same page and we are on a mission and I think we’ll do that together.”
Optimism is aplenty on the Bluff, and that is certainly true for Hopfer who consistently aims to keep a positive disposition. Duquesne hopes to follow that lead as regular season play commences.
“I’m always positive that we’re going to score and we’re going to win,” said Hopfer. “There’s no time for us to look back or be negative. We believe in ourselves and believe in the program. That’s the way to go.”