|School – Denver University|
|Conference – Summit League|
|Coach – Jamie Franks (2nd Season)|
Background – Under the direction of first year head coach Jamie Franks, Denver continued to build on the success the program has enjoyed over the past few years with a banner season in 2015. The Pioneers were 15-1-3 overall in 2015 with a 5-0-1 mark in league play. They won the Summit League regular season and tournament titles for the third consecutive season and were ranked in the top ten by both College Soccer News and the NSCAA for a large part of the 2015 season.
Denver was unbeaten through their first eighteen matches and was the only undefeated team in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament. They were awarded the number thirteen seed in the NCAA Tournament but their season came to an end when they were defeated 1-0 in overtime in the second round of the tournament by SMU. The Pioneers concluded the 2015 campaign ranked as the number sixteen team in the country in the final College Soccer News National Poll and as the number seventeen team in the nation by the NSCAA Poll. The Pioneers only allowed a total of eight goals in 2015 and recorded a program record twelve shutouts.
Back Reagan Dunk was named the 2015 Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and was named an All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News. Dan Jackson was named the Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year and forward Andre Shinyashiki was named the Summit League Freshman of the Year. Franks was also named the Summit League Coach of the Year.
Dunk, Jackson, and Shinyashiki were jointed on the All-Summit League First Team by defender Kortne Ford, and midfielders Sam Hamilton and Jordan Schweitzer. Midfielder Karsten Hanlin and back Scott Devoss were named to the All-Summit League Second Team.
Denver joined the Summit League in 2013. Prior to that they played in the Mountain Pacific Sport Federation. The Pioneers have appeared in the NCAA Division I NCAA Tournament a total of seven times including the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Offense – The Pioneers return their top four goal scorers from the 2015 team. Sophomore Andre Shinyashiki (5g, 2a), who had an outstanding freshman season, returns to power the attack up-top. Shinyashiki was a go-to goal scorer last year but should be even more productive in 2016 with a year of experience under his belt. He will be joined up-top by redshirt junior Eric Kronenberg who missed the 2015 season due to injury but led the Pioneers in goal scoring in 2014 with seven goals, and transfer Blake Elder who was a starter at Air Force in 2013 and 2014 but redshirted the 2015 campaign at Denver.
The midfield will be talented and experienced and very capable of finding the back of the net. Senior defensive midfielder and captain Sam Hamilton (2g, 0a), senior Karsten Hamlin (5g, 4a) who had four game-winning goals in 2015, senior Chandler Crosswait (3g, 5a) and junior Alex Underwood (3g, 3a) who were starters last year are slated to return. Sophomore Kenny Akamatsu (1g, 1a), junior Kyle Morlack and senior Jared Cochran are among other returning midfielders who should be in the mix. Left sided winger freshman Nick Marcin out of the Lonestar Soccer Club is among the newcomers with the potential to add another dimension to the offense.
Defense – Goalkeeper Dan Jackson who transferred in last year from UNC-Ashville where he had been a starter for three seasons and defensive midfielder Jordan Schweitzer who was a starter and impact player at Denver for four years are the two starters from the 2015 team that must be replaced due to graduation. Their departure creates gaps that must be filled on the defensive side of the ball.
However a very solid continget of defenders returns from the 2015 team that allowed a total of only eight goals, recorded twelve shutouts, and allowed a mere 2.5 shots on goal per game. The backline should remain a team strength heading into the 2016 season and could be among the most productive in the country.
Redshirt senior outside back Regan Dunk who is the first Denver player to be named an All-American, senior center back Kortne Ford and redshirt sophomore center back Scott Devoss all return. Junior A.J. Fuller, and sophomores Tosh Samkange and Shae Smalley are among other returning players who should make a signficant contribution.
Junior transfer Graham Smith who has two years of starting experience under his belt at Oregon State is a physical ball winner and solid distributor with great passing range. He could prove to be just what the doctor ordered to fill the gap that exists in the defensive midfielder role due to the graduation of Schweitzer. Freshman Tobi Jnohope out of the Seattle Sounders Academy is among the newcomers who could make an immediate impact. Jnohope appears to have all the tools needed once he makes the transition to the college game to contribute on the defensive side of the ball as well as to add to the attack out of the back.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Gardner out of the Charlotte Soccer Academy who did not see action last year but did have five starts in 2014 looks to be the leading candidate to assume the starting job between the pipes.
Coach Franks stated, "Our staff feels very confident about the transition of all these players into our system of play and we believe that their values align with our program's mission and goals."
Tobi Jnohope – Defender – Largo, Florida – Thomas Jefferson High School – Played for the Seattle Sounders Academy. Two year defender for the state ODP team. Played two seasons for the ODP Region Team.
Dylan Keeney – Defender – Littleton, Colorado – Heritage High School – Played for Real Colorado Academy. Continental League Player of the Year. First-Team All-Colorado.
Nick Marcin – Midfielder – Austin, Texas – Westlake High School – Played for the Lonestar SC.
Blake Moncur – MIdfielder – First Collins, Colorado – First Collins High School – Played for Colorado Rapids Academy. Played for Arsenal Colorado for three seasons. All-Conference selection.
Will Palmquist – Goalkeeper – Denver, Colorado – Played for Colorado Rush. First Team All-Colorado in 2014.
Graham Smith – Midfielder – Highlands Ranch, Colorado – Mountain Vista High School – A junior transfer from Oregon State who was a starter for two seasons as a defensive midfielder. Played for the Real Colorado Academy.
Prognosis for 2016 – Denver heads into the 2016 campaign with a ton of momentum. Expectations for the Pioneers in the Summit League as well as on the national scene are high. Jamie Franks' second season at the helm of the program figures to be an interesting one. The transition last year from Bobby Muuss, who departed after serving as the head coach at Denver for eight seasons to take the head coaching job at Wake Forest, to Franks who became the youngest head coach in Division I was a smooth and successful one. The fact that transition is now in the rear view mirror and that the Pioneer players have a year of familiarity with Franks' system and style of play as the head coach should bode well for the program as Franks moves forward with putting his own stamp on the program.
The Pioneers return an experienced and deep roster that includes nineteen of twenty-four players from the 2015 team including nine starters from a team that won a total of fifteen games last year.
The culture at Denver is high demand, high accountabiity. With so many returning players and several very successful seasons to their credit in addition to the 2015 campaign, there should be a high level of understanding of the expectations and standards of the program. Count team chemistry as a plus at Denver in 2016.
Critical success factors heading into the season include successfully filling the void that exists due to the graduation of Dan Jackson who was the 2015 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year and Jordan Schweitzer who was a three-time All-Summit League First Team selection, the ability of the Pioneers to handle the additonal pressure that goes with the very big target they now have on their chests, and the level of hunger of the team to continue to improve. The earlier than desired exit last year from the NCAA Tournament should prove to be an additional incentive for Denver in 2016 in regard to the third factor.
Look for the seniors, Reagan Dunk, Chandler Crosswait, Karsten Hanlin, and Sam Hamiliton who have all been in the program for at least four years, to set the pace. Their work rate, attitude, and drive, will no doubt play a key role in defining the 2016 season. The bottom line is that there are plenty of tangible and intangible reasons on both sides of the ball to be very optimistic at Denver heading into the 2016 season.