Creighton 2016 Team and Recruiting Class Review

School - Creighton University
Conference - Big East 
Coach - Elmar Bolowich (6h Season)  

Background - Creighton had another outstanding season in 2015 with a 19-4-0 overall record and a 7-2-0 mark in conference play. The Bluejays began the season with a 15-0-0 record and were ranked as the number one team in the country for multiple weeks. They were awarded the number twelve seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in the past five seasons under the direction of Elmar Bolowich who became the Bluejay head coach in 2011.

Creighton is among the most consistently successful soccer programs in the country as reflected in the fact that they have earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament twenty-three times in the past twenty-four seasons and have played their way into the College Cup (Final Four) a total of five times including most recently the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.   

Forward Fabian Herbers and midfielder Timo Pitter were 2015 NSCAA and College Soccer News First-Team All-America selections. Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow was a College Soccer News 2015 Third Team All-America Team selection. Defender Vincent Keller was an NSCAA 2015 All-America Third Team selection.

Herbers was named the 2015 Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Pitters was named the 2015 Big East Midfielder of the Year. Sparrow was named the Big East Co-Goalkeeper of the Year. Herbers, Pitter and Keller were Big East First Team selections. Sparrow was an All-Big East Second Team selection. Midfielder Joel Rydstrand was named to the 2015 Big East All-Freshman Team.   

The 2015 senior class of Pitter, Keller, Sparrow, Eric DeJulio, Mike Paye, and Fernando Castellanos finished their tenure at Creighton with a 61-20-8 overall record, they played their way into the College Cup once, and advanced to the Elite Eight two times. . 

Offense - Not having Fabian Haber and Timo Pitter to power the attack will take some getting used to. They accounted for almost half of Creighton's fifty-three goals last year. The Bluejays will also be without the very capable services of midfielders Fernando Castellanos (3g, 6a) and Mike Paye, 

However, Creighton has consistently shown the ability to replace key personnel without taking a step back. The departures open the door for returning forwards junior Ricky Lopez-Espin (5g, 1a) and redshirt senior Myles Englis (4g, 1a) to play a greater role in the offense in 2016. Senior transfer forward Riggs Lennon may prove to be the wildcard in the Creighton attack in 2016. Lennon appeared in forty-seven contests and contributed seven goals and five assists during three seasons at the University of Virginia.

Senior Ricardo Perez (6g, 2a), sophomore Joel Rydstrand (3g, 3a) and junior Noah Franke (2g, 3a) are among returning midfielders who were starters last year. All three figure to play a prominent role in the Creighton offense in 2016. Sophomore Evan Waldrop (2g, 2a) who appeared in ten contests last year and redshirt junior Brock Fitzgerald who saw action in five contests are among other returning midfielders who will compete for additional playing time in 2016.

Freshman Luke Haakenson out of Shattuck-St. Mary's Academy is among the newcomers who could compete for a starting job in the midfield.  

Defense - Creighton is traditionally strong on the defensive side of the ball. Last year they limited opponents to a total of nineteen goals in twenty-three contests.

Key departures due to graduation include backs Vincent Keller and Eric Dejulio and goalkeeper Connor Sparrow.

Key returning defenders include junior Lucas Stauffer (2g, 2a) who was a starter last year, sophomore Peter Prescott who played in twenty contests in 2015 with one start, and redshirt sophomore Mitch LaGro who appeared in eleven games with five starts.  

Sophomore transfer Akeem Ward, who participated in the spring season, and true freshman Julius Fohr are among the newcomers who could contribute immediately in the back.

Sparrow's departure creates the most crucial unanswered question heading into the 2016 season. With the exception of a total of twenty minutes, Connor was in goal every minute for the Bluejays for the past two seasons.

But inexperience does not necessarily have to be a factor in goal for the Bluejays. Senior transfer Alex Kapp, who participated in the spring season, provides an experienced option between the pipes having started in thirty-eight contests during his tenure at Boston College. Redshirt freshmen Michael Kluver and Collin Valdivia and true freshman Connor Gavigan will also be in the hunt for the starting job in goal.

Newcomers - Three and a half Star Recruiting Class 

Coach Bolowich stated, "We are extremely pleased and equally excited about this year's recruiting class. Three student athletes joined us in January with each having positive impacts during our spring matches. The will be joined by some very talented players this fall, to help us offset the loss of our strong senior class from last season," 

Alex Kapp - Goalkeeper - Amawalk, New York, Iona Prep. - A senior transfer from Boston College were he started thirty-eight contests during his tenure there. Participated in the spring season. 

Akeem Ward - Defender - Vienna, Virginia - Shattuck-St. Mary's Academy - A sophomore transfer from Hastings College where he appeared in twenty contests. Participated in the spring season.

Trent Williams - Midfielder - Smithville, Missouri - Smithville High School - The 2015 News-Press Boys Soccer Player of the Year. Participated in the spring season.

Roberto Anton - Midfielder - Guayaquil, Ecuador - Alfaro Moreno Academy - Played for the Alfaro Moreno Academy in Ecuador. 

Julius Fohr - Defender - Denbach, Germany - Played for the FC Kaiserslautern and Mainz 05 in the German Youth Bundesliga. Member of the men's team with Oberliga Club Burgbrohl.  

Connor Gavigan - Goalkeeper - Aurora, Colorado - Grandview High School - Played for the Colorado Rapids Rapids Academy. 

Luke Haakenson - Midfielder - Maple Grove, Minnesota - Shattuck-St. Mary's Academy. Ranked as the number fifty-seven player in the class of 2016 by College Soccer News. 

Riggs Lennon - Forward Paradise Valley, Arizona - Brophy Prep - Senior transfer from the University of Virgina where he appeared in forty-seven contests with twenty starts. Had seven career goals and five assists at Virginia. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number fourteen player in the class of 2013. Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year. Played for Real Salt Lake Academy. 

Daniel Ribas - Midfielder - Guayaquil, Equador - Alfaro Moreno Academy - Played for Alfaro Moreno Academy in Equador. Brother of former Bluejay Jose Ribas. 

Fabio Rumpier - Midfielder - Vienna, Austria - Sophomore transfer from Middle Georgia State University where he appeared in seventeen games last year with sixteen starts. Played for the Academy and REserve team Admira Wacker Moedling. 

Prognosis for 2016 - It is not a new revelation or even a surprise, but the 2015 season reaffirmed that an Elmar Bolovich coached team should never be counted out when it comes to putting together an outstanding season and in particular a great showing in NCAA Tournament play.

It is a fact that the loss of an extremely talented senior class combined with the decision of All-American forward Fabian Herbers to forgo his senior season to enter the professional ranks means that the Bluejays will enter the 2016 season with more than the usual number of unanswered questions.

With the loss of a two-time All-American forward who was the top point producer in NCAA Division I last year, a two-time All-American midfielder and two-time Big East Midfielder of the Year, an All-American defender, and an All-American netminder with the best goals against average in Creighton history, it would be easy to conclude that the Bluejays will experience a drop off in 2016. But with Bolowich at the helm and a considerable amount of talent on board to work with, history suggests otherwise.

Sure, there are some huge gaps to plug. The attack will not be as dynamic without superstars Haber and Pitter. The goal scoring will have to come from multiple players in 2016.

Ricky Lopez-Espin and Myles Englis up-top and midfielders Ricardo Perez and Joel Rydstrand are among returning players who will likely be counted upon to be difference makers on the offensive side of the ball.

The backline requires some reloading which usually means a learning curve but all the ingredients look to be there to successfully accomplish that. Much will depend on the play in goal.

Critical success factors in 2016 include the ability of the transfers to contribute immediately and team chemistry. Forward Riggs Lennon and goalkeeper Alex Kapp look to be the wildcards in regard to transfers. Team chemistry and on-the-field cohesion are always important but particularly so when newcomers are expected to contribute immediately.   

The Bluejays will probably not enter the season as the presumptive favorite to win the Big East Conference title. That distinction will likely go to 2015 nemesis and fellow powerhouse Georgetown, the team that handed Creighton two of their four losses in 2015.

Another trip to the Elite Eight or beyond may be expecting too much in 2016, but Creighton is a team that should be watched closely, particularly during the early going, for signs that the voids have been filled and that it will be business as usual in 2016.

 

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