The Point Park University men’s soccer team broke new ground in fall of 2012 with its first-ever appearance in the NAIA national tournament. Getting there was a goal of the team and sixth-year head coach Jeroen Walstra. And now that the Pioneers have reached that level, the program will look to continue its success.
“Making the national tournament was a great accomplishment for our team and the University,” said Walstra, a native of The Netherlands. “We had been building up our expectations to get there for a few years, so to come through and make it was exciting. We had the players, coaches and the support from the administration that made it possible.”
Leap to the National Stage
The process of reaching the national stage was one that played out over a few years for Walstra and the Pioneers. Point Park men’s soccer is just a few years removed from being 1-15-1 in 2009. The Pioneers had a big turnaround in 2010 with an 8-9 record before striking it big with a 12-5-1 showing in 2011.
The 2011 team tied a school record for wins with the 1998 team but lost a heart-breaker, 1-0, to Roberts Wesleyan in the finals of the conference tournament. A win there would have punched a ticket to nationals, and despite the disappointment, the Pioneers were able to make good in that situation a year later.
In 2012, Point Park won the KIAC Tournament championship with a 5-4 win over Asbury (Ky.). Point Park used its outstanding offensive abilities to get out to a 5-2 lead at halftime and held on to qualify for nationals. The win was the crowning achievement on a few years of turning around the program.
The Pioneers faced a tough task in the national tournament as they drew Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), the No. 1 team in the country. The Pioneers were down, 3-2, at the half but ended up losing, 7-2, to end the year at 11-7 overall and 4-0 KIAC.
“These guys single-handedly changed Point Park men’s soccer,” said Walstra, referring to not only to the seniors on the 2012 team, but also those from the previous few years. “And it wasn’t just the starters, it’s also about the guys who were team players for four years and helped make the program better.”
Among those players who brought success to the Pioneers were 2012 seniors Matt Annecchiarico (F), Francis Tabi (F) and Alex Sala (M), who were named to the KIAC All-Conference Team along with junior Brett Gwosden (D). The 2012 squad also had Jack Pilkinton (M), Lucas Silva (M), Matt Dziak (D), Phil Malle (M) and Mitchell Kelman (GK), who were all multi-year starters like the others mentioned.
That group was joined by 2011 seniors who helped pave the path to national such as long-time starters Shane Lucas (D), Anthony Russo (D), Andres Escobar (D) and Zeke O’Donnell (GK).
International Recruits Join Local Talent
Although the Pioneers came up short in 2011, it was a big accomplishment to get to the conference finals just two years removed from being 1-15-1. The Pioneers benefitted from that success in recruiting, and it helped them land several talented players for 2012. International recruits Jonty Loukes (England), Romida Nanko (Cameroon), Frazer McKinlay (Scotland), Maruis Seager (France) and Ousman Jaiteh (The Gambia) were key additions last fall along with fellow newcomers Zach Rafalowski (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Tyler Sakolsky (Toms River, N.J.).
That incoming talent joined the seven of 11 starters who returned from the previous year, and it was a recipe for nationals. Another aspect was continuity in the coaching staff, with Walstra as the head coach and Edward Child as the assistant coach for six years in a row. Before Walstra took over in 2007, the program had 11 head coaches in its first 18 years of existence.
“Eddie (Child) and I were patient as coaches,” Walstra said. “We knew it would take time. And recruiting came together over the years with the support of an administration that allows for meaningful scholarship. In the end, it’s about the players and recruiting good ones, because we as coaches don’t score goals.”
Under Walstra, who was both the men’s and women’s coach for three years from 2007-09 before being solely the men’s coach the last three years, the team has had a lot of key players from the international ranks but has also attracted local talent from the Pittsburgh region.
Sala (Austria), Tabi (Ghana), Annecchiarico (Canada), Pilkinton (England) and Silva (Brazil) were some of the international returnees for 2012. With 15 international players joining the roster last fall, the Pioneers had 28 total players representing 14 different countries.
Pittsburgh Attracts Top Players
“There is a lot about Point Park that is attractive to recruits, particularly the international ones,” said Walstra, citing the city environment. “But there is also more interest from the local soccer clubs now that they see that we can play. Overall, the positive results and records really help the program grow.
“But the main thing is getting players who can play soccer – no matter where they are from. We welcome the increased interest locally, and the international guys are good for the team and the school, also, because they create diversity.”
Building a Point Park men’s soccer alumni base is the next thing on Walstra’s mind.
“We want to have a program that alumni are proud of,” he said.
All Point Park men’s and women’s soccer alumni are invited to the Co-Ed Alumni Game, part of the Point Park Athletics Alumni Weekend, on Sept. 28 at Green Tree Park. Men’s soccer alumni should contact Walstra at firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.
Text by Kevin Taylor
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University