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Denver Enters 2023 Season With A Solid Talent Base.

The Pioneers Have Appeared In The NCAA Tournament Nine Out Of The Past Ten Seasons.

Coach – Jamie Franks – 9th season
Conference – Summit League
2022 Record – 14-3-5 overall, 6-0-2 conference
2022 National Ranking – 15 College Soccer News, Receiving votes United Soccer Coaches final poll
Five Year Win Total
2022 – 14
2021 – 10
2022 – 6
2019 -6
2018 – 15
Key Departures

Liam Johnson – Midfielder – Appeared in 79 games with 61 starts over five seasons with three career goals and four career assists. Team captain. Four-year starter whose playing time was limited in 2022 due to injury. The 2021 Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and United Soccer Coaches All-West Region First Team selection.

Eli Mereness – Midfielder – Played in 56 games with 26 starts over four seasons.

Griffin Meyer – Forward – Played in 41 games with 11 starts over three seasons. Had four career goals and four career assists. Played one season at Colorado College before transferring to Denver.

Jake Mecham – Defender – A three-year starter. Appeared in 48 games with 45 starts over three seasons. 2022 Summit League Second Team selection. Played at UNLV in 2018 and 2019 seasons before transferring to Denver.

Stefan DeLeone – Forward – Appeared in 84 games with 74 starts over five seasons. A five-year starter with nine career goals and eight career assists. Summit League First Team member in 2021.

Kengo Ohira – Midfield – Played in 61 games with 23 starts over four seasons. Had 13 career goals and 7 career assists. Summit League First Team selection in 2020. Summit League Second Team member 2021. United Soccer Coaches All-West Region Second Team in 2020.

Will DeSantis – Goalkeeper – Played in three contests with one start in 2022. Played in 19 games and started 17 in 2021 after transferring from Westminster College.
2023 Outlook – Denver has won the Summit League Tournament eight times (including the last four) in the ten years that they have been a member and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament nine times (including five straight seasons) in the past ten years.

Considering all of the pieces that Denver will have returning on both sides of the ball and the success the program has had in the past, a Summit League championship and another berth in the NCAA Tournament certainly seem within reach in 2023.

Tenacious play on the on the defensive side of the ball combined with Denver’s possession and team oriented style of play have made the Pioneers a very difficult opponent to top when they are able to create and finish opportunities in the final third. Solid team defense will again play a big role in the level of success Denver has in 2023, but it can’t be all. The keys to the program’s success won’t change in 2023. Depth, mental toughness, team chemistry and organization are critical success factors at Denver where the margin of victory is often a single goal and the grind of a challenging non-conference schedule can be problematic.

Last year the Pioneers had five 1-0 wins and five ties. Denver is also capable of scoring in multiples when everything falls into place as reflected in a 6-0 win over Southern Illinois, a 3-0 win over Eastern Illinois, a 4-0 win over Lindenwood, and a 4-2 win over Western Illinois during the 2022 season.

The Pioneers annually play a very competitive non-conference schedule with difficult contests on the road. Denver had impressive resume building wins in 2022 over non-conference foes Maryland 2-0 and Virginia 1-0 and solid ties with Georgetown 1-1, Portland 0-0 and Pitt 2-2. These high profile non-conference contests are great for national standing and RPI.

A successful season at Denver also depends on their ability to take it one game at a time, remain focused, and not look past any of their Summit League foes. The Pioneers had close Summit League contests last year with Oral Roberts 1-0, Omaha 1-0, a 0-0 tie with St. Thomas, and a 1-1 tie with Kansas City. The point being that the difference in a good season and a not so good season and the margin of error at Denver can be very slight.

The Summit League will return to six teams in 2023 with former affiliate members Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood and Southern Indiana beginning play in the Ohio Valley Conference. Denver’s eight match regular season league play will include two games against St. Thomas, Oral Roberts, and Kansas City and a single match against Western Illinois and Omaha.

Redshirt sophomore Ian Smith (4g, 3a), a 2022 All-Summit League Second Team selection, junior midfielder Sam Bassett (7g, 6a), a 2022 All-Summit League Second Team member, and sophomore midfielder Holger Olsson (6g, 2a) are among returning players who should power the attack in 2023. Junior forward Oje Ofunrein (2g, 0a) is among others who will likely add an additional dimension to the attack.

Senior captain Ben Smith (2g, 0a), the 2022 Summit League Midfielder of the Year and three-year starter, and graduate student Aidan O’Toole (3g, 4a), a solid four-year starter, return to add stability, grit, and set the pace in the midfield. Senior Lukas Fisher (3g, 4a), redshirt sophomore Jake Smith who stared 20 games last year, and sophomore David Biggers (0g,1a) are among other returning midfielders who provide Jamie Franks with depth and a variety of good lineup options.

Defense will again be a team strength and an area of focus. Senior outside back Ronan Wynne (1g, 6a), the 2022 Summit League Defender of the Year and three-year starter, returns to anchor the backline along with All-Summit League First Team junior center backs Trevor Wright (3g, 2a), a two-year starter who played in every minute of every game last year, and Jason Belloli (3g, 2a). Junior AJ Francois (1g, 0a) and sophomore Dylan Akau (0g, 2a) are among other returning defenders who should see plenty of action.

Sophomore Isaac Nehme, the 2022 Summit League Freshman of the Year and United Soccer Coaches All-West Region First Team selection returns in goal to anchor the defense with the added advantage of a very successful freshman season under his belt. Last year Nehme had a 0.72 goals against average with ten solo shutouts and two shared clean sheets for a Pioneer squad that had the seventh best goals against average in the country.

The Pioneers have established that they are the team to beat in the Summit League with a winning tradition on the national scene. That is not likely to change in 2023.

Dominic Kallay – Defender – Chandler, Arizona – Hamilton High School – High school starter at Hamilton High as a freshman. Played for RSL Arizona. Five-time team captain for RSL Arizona. Soccer savvy player.

Ian Welch – Forward – Austin, Texas – Austin High School – 2021 6A Forward of the Year and Newcomer of the Year at Austin High School. Played for Lonestar SC. Quickness and athletic ability contributes to his effectiveness.

Tyler Schommer – Forward – Prior Lake, Minnesota – Shattuck-St. Mary’s – Six-year starter for Shattuck St. Mary’s US Development Academy and MLSNEXT. Leading goal scorer at Shattuck-St. Mary’s with 47 goals over the past three seasons.

Luke Schultz – Midfielder – Arvada, Colorado – Arvada West High School – Played for Real Colorado. A box-to-box midfielder.

Jake Morris – Goalkeeper – Parker, Colorado – Chaparral High School – Played for Real Colorado. Attended multiple U.S. Youth National Team camps. An athletic and experienced shot stopper.

Picture from University of Denver Athletics

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Posted in 2023 Team Reviews

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