MEN’s SOCCER: Holmes surprised by improvement

Joanie Baker

After practice yesterday, coach David Holmes leaned back on the bench and watched some students practice football on the field his players just put their sweat into.

He’s relaxed.

He shows no sign of anxiety about his team’s game tomorrow. Butler, Western’s next opponent, doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.

After Butler upset the previously undefeated Kentucky in a shutout last weekend, one might think Holmes would be a little uneasy. Holmes said there’s nothing to worry about.

“We should have beat UK,” Holmes said. “The fun thing about Division I soccer is that from the top to the bottom, there’s not too much difference between the teams. So I think fans will see two good teams at a very close game. Butler will be a good opponent, but it’s nothing we shouldn’t be ready for or should be afraid of.”

Holmes isn’t the only one not worried about Butler (3-2-1).

“The last time we played Butler it was a very good battle, pretty rough game,” senior Ron Plute said. “They were a good team, and I’m expecting them to be the same, if not better, this year. But our team just keeps getting better, and I think we’ll give them a pretty good run for their money.”

After a discouraging weekend where Western played one good offensive game and one good defensive game, building physical stamina has been at the forefront of Holmes’ practice schedule.

Plute said the overall team morale is up and he thinks the losses have helped the team to grow and prepare to play Butler.

After starting the season with a 6-0 loss at Dayton, Western has come alive both offensively and defensively. Last season, the Toppers finished 8-10-1 while scoring 1.59 goals per game. Western’s opponents netted 1.8.

This season, 10 different players have scored while the Toppers have upped their goals per game average to 1.9.

Despite starting a freshman goalie, Western has also lowered its opponents’ goals per game average to 1.38.

Part of the offensive improvement has come from young players like sophomores Daniel Payne, Richard Mupfudze and Brandon Bailey. The trio has combined for seven of Western’s 14 goals.

With just eight consistent starters, Holmes has had to rely on more young players off the bench. And after 16 players have seen time in at least five games, there doesn’t appear to be a drop off from the starters.

Those substitutes have given the starters a break, especially when Western has two games in three days.

“We’re getting closer and closer to be able to do that,” freshman Alex Sheikh said. “We can go deep into the bench because we have a strong bench.”

But the bench has just been one of several components Holmes has been impressed with since the Dayton loss.

“We’ve really come a long way in a month,” Holmes said. “I didn’t think we’d come as far since that disastrous first game. We’ve made some really good progress and I think we’ll be ready when MVC play comes around.”

Reach Joanie Baker at [email protected]