MLC men’s soccer team has high hopes

It’s not to difficult finding Martin Luther College men’s soccer coach when it’s soccer season. The veteran coach is often at his team’s soccer practice or games, or watching his son Joel compete for the New Ulm Eagles high school team on the fields at the Martin Luther College soccer complex.

Of course, Koelpin is always willing to talk about soccer. I’ve had casual conversations throughout the course of the last year regarding this year’s MLC men’s team. The passion and excitement he has for the squad is not hard to notice.

The Knights were preseason picks to finish sixth in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Preseason Poll. I’m not a UMAC men’s soccer expert, but I highly doubt that they will finish in that spot this year with the returning talent. And I’m not the only one who believes that.

Koelpin’s group knows that there’s a lot of talent on the team. There’s a good mix of veteran leadership in the senior and junior classes. The sophomore class this year might be one of his deepest he’s had in years.

That has helped the Knights compete early on in the UMAC season. It’s early in the season and the Knights are 5-4 overall and 2-1 in conference play, but Koelpin and company have a win-now attitude.

“I like the way that we’ve approached the season so far,” Koelpin said. “The key to what we’ve been doing is we’re battling for 90 minutes, we battle until the end. But we’re really fighting hard for loose balls, we’re fighting for 50-50 balls, we’re competing for 90 minutes and it’s showing up with some wins.”

The Knights’ biggest win so far might have come against rival UM-Morris. There, the Knights battled back from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime and eventually won on Eric Dorn’s goal 1:41 into the extra session. It was the type of victory this team needed and it may have been the confidence boost to show it can compete with the best in the conference.

“I think that was one of those games that we realized, it was 2-0 game at one point so we had to battle back and get that thing even, no one gave up and no one hung their heads,” Koelpin said. “Everyone said we could do this and once we went into the overtime, I said to the guys ‘we’ve been here before.’ Morris is always a quality club and they’re always competitive.”

Last year’s leading goal scorer, Aaron Swanson, is back this year. Swanson was the UMAC Freshman of the Year last season after scoring 11 goals. He’s teamed with senior midfielder Aaron Markgraf, a two-time All-UMAC player himself. Junior Caleb King is a three-year starter at goalkeeper and has been one of the top keepers in the conference.

For Markgraf, it’s an exciting time since he’s in his final year.

“I said this at the beginning of the year, this is the best team that I’ve been a part of at this school,” Markgraf said after Wednesday’s win against Buena Vista. “We’ve got some young guys who have a lot of talent and we have some veteran guys who haven’t had a lot of playing time but have kind of been waiting for their moment. Some guys have really stepped up to the plate and we’ve been doing a good job of putting things together this season.”

The team has stayed active all winter during the offseason. That has helped the club stay competitive in the early part of the season.

“Those guys played all winter, they’d play indoor on the gym stage or floor, they’d play some 5-on-5 and they would hang out with each other,” Koelpin said. “This is a team that really likes being around each other and this is a team that gets along not only on the field but off the field.”

Another senior, Ryan Plath, agreed that this group is special.

“It’s really fun to play with these guys, [they] work really hard, always positive, it’s a great group of guys to play with,” Plath said.

Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, it might be worth your time to check this team out.