The wait is nearly over as DePaul gets ready to embark on its first season under men’s soccer coach Mark Plotkin.
Plotkin was named head coach shortly before Christmas, and worked with the team in the spring culminating in a couple of spring games that both and players coaches said was an opportunity to build familiarity with each other.
Senior midfielder Harry Hilling said the transition from the old to new staff has gone smoothly and helped the players on and off the field.
“The transition I thought went really well,” Hilling said. “The guys adjusted really well, pretty quickly to the new coaching style and everyone was on board and bought into the coaches long-term plan. From the spring, the excitement level for the fall was high, it was pretty exciting and I know all summer I was just looking forward to getting back and starting up the new season.”
The senior, who appeared in nine games for the Blue Demons last season, added the team stayed in constant contact throughout the summer over group messages about what they were doing to stay in shape and the team as a whole is just looking forward to starting a new chapter.
Coming out of the spring, Plotkin was pleased with what his team accomplished with a smaller roster that allowed them to spend more time focusing on individual players strengths and weaknesses, something he said will help when it comes to formulating a plan of what they want to do.
“We just really focused on getting to know our guys and getting them used to us,” Plotkin said. “Letting them know how much we care about them and just letting them know what our expectations are, our work ethic and what we expect of them each and every day on the field and they seem to be extremely receptive and enjoyed our training environment which was super competitive.”
Plotkin added they used the spring as an opportunity to get their players familiar with the vocabulary and some of the drills they like to run, so when camp kicked off last Wednesday they could hit the ground running.
Senior defender Anton Sell echoed the sentiments of his new coach that the spring served as an opportunity for the players to get an idea of what to expect, which then allows them to take on more of a leadership role.
“It’s so important to see where we’re at, especially with the new coaches it also gives us the returning players a good feeling for what to expect for the season so we can basically guide the incoming players in that process,” Sell said. “I think that’s the biggest advantage of the spring games just to kind of create a good chemistry with the other players and the new coaches obviously and to see the new strategy and how it’s supposed to play out.”
After adding seven players during the spring, the Blue Demons also added five newcomers in late July. That list included three Big Ten transfers in sophomore goalkeeper Drew Nuelle and fellow sophomore Isaac Friendt from Indiana, as well as, Wisconsin sophomore defender Brayden Callipari. All three players are eligible immediately, although Callipari has currently been unable to practice due to injury. Plotkin has already been impressed with the championship experience Nuelle and Friendt brought with them from Indiana, who finished as the runner up to Stanford in the National Championship and are perennial contenders in the Big Ten.
“Having kids that come from that kind of culture where winning is basically what’s expected of you I think that their confidence and their ability to see what they’ve seen and how they’ve played at such a high level already,” Plotkin said. “Their team was in the national championship last year and just being in a program that trained that way, developed that way and competed that way and see how far a team like that could go …”
Plotkin added he has already seen those championship tendencies extend to their new teammates. Plotkin also said noted many of the freshman have impressed him and pointed to their upcoming two exhibition games against Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois as opportunities to see what they can do in a game environment, but he foresees playing at least a couple of them early.
The former DePaul player, now head coach at his alma mater said the message has simply been centered on expecting more of themselves and more of each other.
“You can see when you sit there and talk to them that they all want to win and want to be good,” Plotkin said. “We’ve just talked with them about how if they want to get that way they have to do more than they’ve ever done before and they have to do more than what’s expected. And the biggest messages that we’ve been talking about is just commitment to the defensive side of the ball, commitment to being great teammates, commitment to being more disciplined on the field.”
Focusing on doing the little details a little better is something Plotkin said will give the team a much better opportunity to win games.
So far, Hilling said he has seen the team be more connected and pulling in the same direction after a frustrating 2017-18 season.
“Biggest difference is just making sure the team is on the same page,” Hilling said. “In the past I feel like everyone had different attitudes and different goals in mind, but this year the coaches really stressed their plan, their objectives and everyone has bought into that. Overall I would say the focus is just making sure, the coaches said it today at the end of practice, one being a good teammate, two work extremely hard defensively and three just enjoy soccer. Just enjoy being around each other.”
Both seniors also added having Plotkin, who played for the Blue Demons from 2006-09, has also been able to help players in their daily lives through networking and a student perspective with college still fresh for him.
“I think it helps so much, I think he can relate to all the situations we’re in,” Sell said. “Both of us we had an internship this past summer and he knows how it works but he’s stayed pretty realistic in all aspects and tells us what to do but it’s pretty straightforward, but he knows what’s going on and that really helps overall in this process.”
The Blue Demons open the season against Western Illinois on Saturday before returning for their home opener against Eastern Illinois on Tuesday.