Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Newness Of All Sorts

Dustin Ashley, a captain on the 2015 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will be the new blog author for the squad this season. He will be blogging all year long on the UWM website.

Today is his first entry of the campaign as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior season.

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Hello, and welcome back all Milwaukee Panthers and fans! Many of you followers are probably very familiar with the legendary 'Bell’s Blog', written by former player Laurie Bell. As another Milwaukee Panther Men’s Soccer season opens, we are happy to say that the past author of Bell’s Blog has moved on to pursue his professional career as a Tulsa Roughneck, playing in the USL Pro League. When duty calls, I didn’t think there would be anyone to be a better fit than Laurie’s old roommate to take on the honors to keep the blogging rolling of the men’s soccer ins and outs for this up coming fall season.

With that being said, let me start by introducing myself. My name is Dustin Ashley and I am a senior captain on the team this year. This is my fourth year here as a Milwaukee Panther. I played my freshman year of college soccer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Deciding to transfer has lead me to a great experience academically and athletically, and not to mention meeting the incredible people that have come into my life along the way.

With everyone else just recently talking about their summers coming to an end with classes starting this week, our guys have already wrapped up our summer fun and have been hard at work for quite some time now already. We asked all of our guys, returners and incoming players, to report for captain’s practices, which were training sessions led by our other captain, Declan Rodriguez and myself. We spent our mornings playing small-sided games and taking team runs down to the beach, and our evenings finding air mattresses and couches for all the international guys to sleep on before moving into the dorms. It’s safe to say we became a tight group pretty quickly. We had a big incoming class. There is a lot of newness around the locker room, but filled with some good personalities and characters, with some still struggling to find their banter. This is a team filled with great soccer players, as well as great people this year.

Everyone was excited to get things rolling for preseason and the vibe in the camp was great. Knowing we had our first exhibition game only three days into preseason, we knew we had to come in fit and get right to work. Our first exhibition game vs. Loyola ended in a 1-1 tie. We were able to get everyone quality minutes as we played two completely different squads each half. A few days later we took the road and traveled to SIUE for our second and final preseason game. The home team certainly brought out the numbers in the stands, as it was their freshman welcome game. We traveled back home after suffering a 2-0 loss.

For the most part, we were all ready for our season and home opener with healthy bodies and our individual roles within the team figured out. We hosted Evansville at Engelmann Field, where we laid a smack down on them in front of our home fans on a rainy evening for a 5-2 win, which could have easily been an even bigger goal margin. With our confidence high, we hopped on a bus the next day heading off to Nebraska to take on #4 Creighton. We knew we were going to have our hands full playing an opponent of that caliber, but felt that we were also a very tough team and prepared so that we would give ourselves the best chance to get a result. Creighton provided a very professional environment for us, with an incredible stadium, great crowd, and a hotel that had many of the guys sending snapchats of how impressive it was. We fell to Creighton in a 4-0 loss in a game that we felt we weren’t as sharp as we need to be. All in all, our guys came away with a very good experience under our belts playing one of the best teams in the country.

As a team, we couldn’t sit around and sulk on our loss though, with Thursday bringing one of the best college soccer rivalries in the country to our campus. UWM vs. Marquette is a cross-town rivalry that attracts great crowds and a heated game to claim the Milwaukee Cup. It is our freshman welcome game so we should have a sea of black and gold, rowdy fans lead by our very own Michael Poll.

So I will do my best this season to share with you all our game results, where we are at as a team, and even some inside information that the public is dying to get their hands on. I know it will be tough to fill the shoes of Bell’s Blog, but I will certainly do my best. Hope you all follow along all season and get behind us for another great Milwaukee Panther Soccer season.

-Dust

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seniors Not Ready to Say Goodbye

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website.

Today is his fourth entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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As well as being a critical match in our season, tonight’s game is significant for another, more sentimental reason too: it’s senior night. When this season’s done – which we all hope is for a while still – the program will say goodbye to four of its servants, including three captains and three of us who have been here for at least four years.

The team will move on without us, and we will move on without the team. But for a time in each of our young lives, UWM soccer has been central to our existence. So, here are the men not quite ready to say goodbye:

For his recent Halloween costume, Kyle Neumann taped this year’s squad picture on his shoulders. When I saw he was wearing the photograph of us posing on Engelmann Field in front of the scoreboard, I asked him what the outfit meant. He replied: “I’m putting the team on my back.”

That’s Kyle. His bizarre sense of humor has provided UWM players with consistent laughs for almost half a decade now, even if we don’t always know what we’re laughing at. And throughout his career here, he has repeatedly sacrificed himself for the team. Except for putting on the goalie gloves, the Appleton native has done it all. He’s played in every position on the field without ever letting us down.

Luke Goodnetter joined the program three years ago. He couldn’t play his first year due to transfer issues, and so the biggest impression he had that fall was on the hearts of some of the UWM women’s team. “Who’s the new guy who looks like Ben Affleck?” one of them asked me. At that point, I didn’t know much about him myself.

But as soon as he could step on the field, he made an impact. The Affleck lookalike improved us with his standout midfield play last fall, and has stepped in capably at center back this year as well. And no matter how good looking he is, Luke will best be remembered for THAT volley he scored at Valparaiso last year.

I don’t know how Richard Johnson ended up in Milwaukee, and I don’t know what he’ll do after he leaves, but in his four and a half year career here he has been one of the most solid characters I have played alongside. Plucked from a Yorkshire chicken factory he was working in (whatever that entails), Jonno was offered a scholarship to America and probably thought ‘why not?’

Since he’s been here, he has performed strongly and been a rock in the locker room too. He’s fearless, he lets nothing faze him, and I can never quite tell whether he’s enjoying himself or not. But I do know that the program will miss a guy like Jonno, and so will I.

And finally, myself. Four years ago I took a chance, stumbling across the pond and finding myself in Milwaukee playing college soccer – wherever and whatever they were. I came looking for football and adventure, knowing I could always go home if things didn’t work out. I found both, and lots, lots more.

That tonight is almost certainly my final game on Engelmann is surreal. I remember my first match well. On a beautiful summer day, we lost 4-1, but I scored an equalizing goal just after half time and ran into the arms of celebrating fans thinking, “This is going to be fun.”

It has been. And now we must all ensure that this season has some more fun left in it.

So I think I speak for all four of us when I say thank you – to every teammate, coach and parent that have made our experiences in Milwaukee unforgettable – but not goodbye.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Structural Integrity

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website.

Today is his third entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Inconsistent, haphazard and intermittently impressive: adjectives as applicable to my blogging as they have been to our performances this season.

But after eight games without victory, we finally put together a showing befitting the talent we believe lies in our squad on Saturday. We played excellently and won 2-0. Upon the final whistle, a collective sigh of relief resounded round the stadium, and Panther players, coaches, parents and dogs released long-banished post-game smiles. Lo and behold, with the result, goal, and a new MacBook Air, my creative blogging juices flow once more.

Petter netted the opener with a fine first half header from a cross by converted full back Horvat. In a mixed season defensively, Aaron’s consistency in the new position – after playing his whole career as a forward – has been commendable. Luke Goodnetter’s long ball assisted our second and match-securing goal.

Keeping things clean at the other end, Liam Anderson and our back line nullified the opposition attack, giving us a complete team performance. The superstitious stopper claimed his good luck charm was a bacon, onion and barbeque pizza he treated himself to on Friday night – not a pre-match ritual the rest of us will be joining you in, mate!

Results or not, our team morale has been remarkably high all year. I think it’s because we understand that we’ve rarely been outclassed. Scorelines don’t lie, and conceding goals without scoring is recipe for unsatisfactory soccer. But losses have often been by margins as narrow as a Norwegian’s calves – just check out Magnus Flaatedal’s lower leg muscles to see what I mean.

And so we have kept a buoyant locker room, which has been heartening to be involved in. There have been times of testy tempers, but that is part of sport. A group of twenty-five testosterone-filled footballers will inevitably boil over on occasion, even when the going is good. But our togetherness has stayed intact, and will have to remain that way as we approach the season’s climax.

We have five games left. That’s frightening. With victories from those matches, we can extend that number to include post-season games, which puts this senior a little more at ease. Knowing my college years are almost over adds extra importance to each date on our schedule. The leaves have almost all fallen on the ground.

If it felt like Saturday’s first conference win lay the foundations for the rest of our year, then we’ll have to construct the floors, ceilings and roof pretty quickly. But ours is a group with structural integrity. And I’m betting, with everybody working to the same tune, we can still build something special.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Meaty Milwaukee Match-Up

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website.

Today is his second entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Demolishing a plate of baked beans on toast on my final Milwaukee Cup morning, I was struck by the bloglessness of recent Panther weeks. So here’s an update and look-ahead, as our season approaches its third-way stage.

Six games in, we have three wins and three losses. While the wins were convincing, inconsistency is not acceptable. We are a young and renovated team, but familiarity is coming and the talent is there. Our beefed up non-conference schedule this year has featured three top-25 ranked teams already, providing high-level opposition to measure ourselves against. We faced two this weekend on our trip to Washington D.C., without recording a result.

At least we saw the White House.

An easy analysis goes that we have fallen short against strong opponents. It’s true that we didn’t play many of the likes of Oregon State, George Mason or American during our blistering start to last season. But playing in and watching back our recent games, it’s clear that we have not been outclassed. We haven’t struggled to compete, and for long periods we dominated.

However, we learned that such teams are less forgiving. Typically, our mistakes have been punished with goals, and we haven’t been ruthless enough in attack. We must now inject ourselves with the lethal streak that pumped through our opponents.

So we’re 3 and 3, with the meat of the season still to come and a filet mignon of a fixture tonight.

Form goes out the window in a derby match. It’s a common sporting cliché that is fortunately rooted in absolute truth. And tonight we will be running on passion, heart and, personally, beans on toast at Valley Fields against rivals Marquette. When kick off rolls around at 7 p.m. we will be ready.

The Milwaukee Cup turns 41 this evening and after giving the trophy some fresh birthday air on the sidelines, we plan to return it, polished and rejuvenated, back to Coach Kelderman’s office shelf, where it has glittered for the past year.

In my time at UWM, I’ve won the cup twice, and heartbreakingly had it snatched away in the final second the last time we played at Marquette. Those of us involved that night still feel we owe our opponents one, and finishing my career with three servings of bragging rights would sit well.

This is a rivalry game unlike any I have ever been a part of, and it’s a special date on the College Soccer calendar. When I’m no longer a Panther in participation but only in spirit, I’ll miss these fixtures enormously. Which makes tonight especially poignant, and by the sounds of it the atmosphere will be incredible.

The Milwaukee Soccer Development Group, a band of the sport’s enthusiasts pushing for a professional team in town, have organized a Milwaukee Cup March. They challenge local fans to show support for soccer by meeting before the game at the Twisted Fisherman and marching together to Valley Fields. For more information go to: http://www.milsoccerdg.org/events.html. See you there, fellas! So with cups on the line both this evening and next Tuesday against NIU, followed by the beginning of Horizon League play, our early season appetizers are finished. The entrée is being prepared: It’s steak, and it will be served tonight.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gameday Trims

Laurie Bell, a captain on the 2014 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his first entry of the year as he chronicles the adventures of the team during his senior campaign.

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Along with free meals, pre-match jitters and the ants in my kitchen, Bell’s Blog is back!

Today we kick off our season - it’s about bloody time. After enduring an endless offseason and trying to care about two exhibition matches, the real thing is here.

We start with a home opener against DePaul. Last year we had a juicy Milwaukee Cup fixture first up, which had us hopping around in anticipation like Dustin Ashley after a Red Bull. Preparations have been more measured this time around, but apprehension creeps in nonetheless as the curtain raises on a fall we have high hopes for - especially when, like me, it’s your final one! There’s a lot of new faces, but there was in 2013 too, and remember how that turned out?

Since we arrived back from our various summer bases, the house I share with Dustin and Zach Stevenson has been a hotbed for Norwegians and haircuts. Peter Ingebrigtsen and Magnus Flaatedal, our new Scandinavians, literally lay in scorching slumber in our non-air conditioned living room before moving into the dorms. And the rest of the team have paid visits in search of new hair styles.

It has become apparent that the younger you are, the edgier you are, with our blonde freshman Reid Stevenson and Nick Moon receiving the most radical cuts. Admittedly, Nick took a bit of persuading to rock the curly mullet that will be flying down the wing this evening. In contrast, former player, Grad Assistant, future accountant and all-round quite old student Aaron Cranfill came in for a business-like short back and sides.

Dustin called in Agustin Rey to deliver his gameday trim, and at almost two o’clock in the afternoon, it seems Sean Taylor won’t be getting his. One notable absentee from the chair in front of our bathroom mirror is senior captain Richard Johnson. After years of dodgy free haircuts, he has decided to start stumping up $50 at a downtown salon because, in his words, “I have a funny shaped head.” We won’t argue Dick.

I look forward to updating Bell’s Blog weekly throughout the fall. But for now, I have a prematch meal at a local Italian place to attend. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

’Twas A Season to Be Jolly

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 13th, and final, entry of the year.

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By now, our lockers have been tidied, our boots are gathering dust, and our preparations are for Christmas festivities, not upcoming games. The season is over. And what a season it was.

It’s always strange when the frantic events of the soccer calendar’s culmination suddenly cease. The constant matches, trainings and traveling simply stop. All that is left to do is reflect. In previous years, reflection has brought upon a certain bitterness and regret. Not this year.

Sure, we thought we deserved more from our final game, outshooting and outplaying our opponents in a 1-0 defeat. But there is no shame in losing to a talented Madison side in the NCAA tournament. We had made it to the big dance, and boogied til our feet hurt. We signed off 2013 with swagger – a year that will go down as a famous one in Milwaukee soccer history.

Making the national tournament was one of several goals that we successfully met this fall. It came as a consequence of the biggest: winning the Horizon League Championship.

The weekend we won was filled with as much drama and controversy as our great sport can muster. Thanks to tornados and disqualifications, delays and relocations, we were forced to play the semi-final and final on consecutive days. We handled every challenge like champions, and after a couple of 2-0 wins that’s exactly what we were. On the Sunday evening, we were crowned, in front of few fans and zero functioning cameras. What we had was each other, the team and staff who had operated together so fluently all fall. Each other, and a big old trophy. The gale force Chicago winds carried our glory chants away into the night air. “Campeones, Campeones, Olé, Olé, Olé”

Our other achievements, both collectively and individually were plentiful.

Playing attractive soccer virtually all fall, we finished with a 15-3-2 record, the most victories in a season for the program for a decade.

Four players earned all-tournament honors - MVP and two-time goalscorer Andrew Stone, Luke Goodnetter, Aaron Cranfill and myself.

These came on top of the four recipients of all-conference honors.

Freshmen Liam Anderson and Junior Juarez, as well as Rami Younes enjoyed outstanding beginnings to life in Milwaukee. Bright futures lie ahead for Beau Laufer and Kostas Kotselas too.

Declan Rodriguez, selfless and underappreciated all year, was fantastic throughout the campaign.

Robbie Boyd leaves after lifting the Horizon League trophy. His captaincy responsibilities are passed over to Luke Goodnetter and Richard Johnson, who I look forward to raising more silverware with in the future.

The competition for the number one goalkeeper position will heat up in 2014. Liam shall be pushed by Agustin Rey, John Stahr and freshly eligible, Ryan Onwukwe.

Next year, Kyle Neumann, Aaron Horvat, and Patrick Ruhland can build on their contributions so far at UWM. Zach Stevenson and Dustin Ashley will come back from redshirt seasons to improve us, too. Likewise the strong class of incoming guys will help fill the void left by the seniors.

We all wish one of those seniors, Andrew Stone, the very best of luck in his pursuit of a post-college soccer career. Hopefully he extends the program’s braggability into the New Year.

His fellow departing defenders, Cranfill and Austin Toth, walk through the exit door alongside dedicated four year servants Boyd, James Ashcroft, Luke Davey, Riley Weiner, and Kevin Ferron. The group can all graduate as champions, crying champagne tears.

I’ve won a few honors myself this year. Followers of Milwaukee soccer must be sick of hearing about me. In truth, though I am very proud of the accolades that have come my way, I’m sick of seeing my picture too. But every team member has the award I coveted most. The one that sits in pride of place on my dresser, like I’m sure it does in all our respective bedrooms. On the prestigious glass plaque are three words that cheer me up each morning when I awaken to a day without soccer. It reads: Horizon League Champion.

That’s us. Merry Christmas!

Over and out.

LB

Friday, November 15, 2013

Everything on the Line

Laurie Bell, a junior on the 2013 Milwaukee men's soccer team, will once again be blogging all season long on the UWM website. Today is his 12th entry of the year.

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It’s post-season. A time when every game is your biggest of the season, and any game could be your last. When your next blog may be a season-reflector or a look ahead to a new opponent. We kick off tonight in the Horizon League semi-final against a tough Oakland side who finished just one place behind us in conference. The prize for the winner: a place in Sunday’s final against UIC.

So, we are in Chicago, stationed in our hotel rooms, each player preparing themselves for tonight in their unique way. We have just returned from our habitual pre-game walk. On today’s wander, we lapped a Super-Target megastore beside the hotel. The journey took us behind a loading dock that smelled worse than Ryan Onwukwe’s dreadlocks after a month without being washed. Perhaps it was some kind of preparatory strategy. If we can make it through that, we’re ready for anything.

A week ago, we recorded our biggest victory of the season, a 5-0 thrashing of Cleveland State. Our defense was huge in ensuring the clean sheet, and five different players notched goals. Ashy, Goodnetter, and myself added to our season tallies, and two freshmen scored their first goals for Milwaukee. Beau finished nicely to wrap up the scoring, after Kostas Kotselas earned an overdue first goal in the final game of a regular season that he deserved more from. Rami Younes starred with two assists and an impressive performance on his return from injury. It was a great way for the seniors to bow out of Engelmann action, and a fantastic set up for this weekend’s tournament. It has given us confidence that we will carry into tonight.

Earlier this week, the Horizon League awards came out. Andrew Stone and I were awarded First Team All-Horizon League honors, and Luke Goodnetter and Robbie Boyd were named on the second team. I must thank my team for helping me earn the Horizon League Player of the Year Award, too. Our whole squad felt rightly aggrieved, after our remarkable season, that we didn’t get more recognition in these polls. But, while they are good achievements, this isn’t why any of us play the game. If our priorities were the pursuit of individual trophies, we would have taken up tennis or golf.

But we are all footballers, soccer players. We participate in the greatest team sport in the world for a reason. To play in a team. To win, draw and, sometimes, even lose together. To work collectively with 25 other guys towards the same goal. The goal this weekend: to win a Horizon League Championship in Chicago. It is what we have worked towards all season, and it starts tonight against Oakland. We can’t wait.