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Season Preview: Sticking to their principles, Duquesne men’s soccer focus on sustaining winning culture

Photo courtesy Zachary M. Weiss

In 2022, Duquesne men’s soccer team had a successful and historic season as they achieved Top 25 National Ranking in the United Soccer Coaches poll and pushed to earn an NCAA Tournament berth, but that dream fell just short in the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals at Rooney Field.

Even so, the Dukes made Rooney Field a tough place to play for opponents both with success and an increase in fan support. In the past two seasons, the Dukes boast a remarkable 13-1-3 record at home, with that one loss coming in the Atlantic 10 playoff match last November.

Despite the loss stinging, Duquesne was able to move on and reload in an effort to take that next step as a program — as they strive to sustain a winning culture.

“I think it’s a great group of guys,” Duquesne coach Chase Brooks stated.

“I think they’re bought in, they understand what we’re looking for. I think they’re really close and that camaraderie is something you need going into the season.”

Duquesne had two exhibition contests against Saint Francis (PA) and Detroit Mercy, of which it emerged victorious in both with four cumulative goals scored and one against before a final setback at Virginia

As the Dukes prepare for Thursday’s season opener at James Madison, there is still a lot of things to determine.

“Now it’s about cleaning up the technical deficiencies, some of the individual mistakes because those are the things that are going to continue to hold us back,” said Brooks.

Even though some of those mistakes were there, the group is staying positive and working hard and that’s what we ask them for. Mistakes are going to happen, it’s how you respond, and the group is responding well, so now can we keep building and keep moving forward?”

This is a Duquesne team which returns 87.5% of its goals as well as 79.2% of its assists.

Duquesne does have a lot of newness on the field whether it is players, position changes or anything in between and throughout those two scrimmages a lot remained a work in progress.

An example of that came in Wednesday’s effort against Detroit Mercy where in the first half there were a lot of back passes directed towards the goalkeeper and communication levels dipped.

Brooks challenged the team to find counters and with many substitutions, Duquesne answered its coaches ask when a long ball into the box led to a penalty kick and provided more movement in addition to confidence on the offensive end.

“The times when things weren’t going our way, we weren’t panicking or getting to frustrated with each other,” junior defender Jack Emanuel said. “We were able to stay calm and continue with the game.”

Though far from perfect, Duquesne is gelling well together, and it is clear that the belief is present.

I like the group of guys that we have, the guys that came in are meshing really well,” said Emanuel. “I think the goals are exactly the same as previous years. We’re looking for that A-10 Championship and looking to get to the national tournament.”

Duquesne was picked to place fifth in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll with both junior captain Maxi Hopfer and sophomore midfielder Ask Ekeland making the preseason all-conference team.

Hopfer was an A-10 All-Conference Second Team selection last season, and the Austrian has started all 43 games he has competed in.

Last season, Hopfer totaled 14 points and is still finding his full form after an injury held him out of the team’s spring season. When healthy, Hopfer’s form and drive are a hard matchup for opposing teams. Brooks believes that form is starting to present itself.

Ekeland paced Duquesne with eight goals a season ago and his 17 points did the same. The Norwegian was a member of the Atlantic 10 First and Rookie Teams in 2022, starting all 19 games.

Senior midfielder/forward Nate Dragisich came off a 2021 season in which he totaled five goals, but took a different route in 2022 with seven assists, consistently finding teammates in good position to score.

Also among key returnees are senior forward Jacob Casha, senior defender/midfielder Cameron Territo, junior defender Christoffer Vie Angell, junior forward Zach Mowka, junior defender/midfielder Tom Tzabari, senior forward Tate Mohney, junior midfielder Ryan Goodhew, junior defender Jesper Moksnes and junior forward Jayden Da.

There’s a lot of good momentum right now,” Brooks determined. “We’ve got a good deep squad and it’s about winning together as a team, as a family as opposed to one or two individuals that are going to take us over the top.”

Part of having a deep squad has been players adjusting into new roles in an effort to find more playing time. Emanuel, Mowka, sophomore Anthony DiFalco and sophomore midfielder Jaxon Ervin are among those who have given new positions a try.

Brooks believes the idea is ultimately getting the best 11 guys on the field and then those who are unable to crack that starting lineup, will still be a key factor in attempting to win a championship. these players were ready to step up, learn and figure it out.

For Emanuel had was a right center back a season ago but now is in the six.

“Last year I didn’t play as much and they moved me to a new spot,” he said. “I just worked as hard as I could and do what they ask me to do.”

 In terms of newer players who have stepped up and have found themselves within the team, sophomore defender and Akron transfer Grant McIntosh was able to fill a central center back role in the Detroit Mercy exhibition.

Freshman defender Sam Bennett has taken on multiple positions in the preseason and has executed well.

Duquesne has two new goalkeepers in Andreas Nygaard and Zoltan Nagy battling returning sophomore Ethan Smith for the starting job and all have been given the opportunity to take on that job.

Additional newcomers are sophomore defender Hugo Berville, redshirt sophomore midfielder Pepo Bravo, junior defender Kiril Smirnov and freshman defender Jack Jennings.

As everything meshes together, Brooks does believe that while Duquesne’s principles will remain intact, there will be a difference to this year’s squad.

“We’re trying to be a little more patient on the ball this year and try to draw pressure,” revealed Brooks. “Overall, the things that don’t change are the work ethic, trying to be tough defensively and put the shift in. Every game is going to be a little different. The more we can stick to our principles and understand the moments to execute the better.”

Fans who saw the Detroit Mercy contest, saw a team which had practiced eight or nine times together and since then have had another scrimmage at Virginia.

With James Madison fast approaching, Duquesne is using its information generated in both practice and the three scrimmages and early returns are positive, though there is a concession that there is clearly some work to do in all aspects.

“You see guys that are flexible and giving everything, they’ve got blocking shots, blocking crosses,” concluded Brooks. “You see a group that’s humble and hungry. No matter if I’m asking them to play out of a position they’ve never played before they’re trying and giving everything, they’ve got. I can’t ask for more. “

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