|School: University of Denver|
|Conference: Summit League|
|Coach: Jamie Franks – Third Season|
|2016 Record: 20-1-3 overall – 5-0-1 in conference|
|2016 Final Season Ending National Rank: 3rd NSCAA and College Soccer News|
Key Losses from the 2016 Team: Defenders Reagan Dunk (0g, 5a) and midfielders Sam Hamilton (0g, 9a), Karsten Hanlin (5g, 8a), and Chandler Crosswait (1g, 6a) due to graduation.
Defender Kortne Ford (5g, 2a) due to leaving to enter the professional ranks.
Five Year Win Total:
|2016 Goals Scored and Goals Against: 40 goals scored and 13 goals allowed|
|Key 2016 Statistic: Denver posted a total of fourteen shutouts in 2016 while recording a 0.52 goals against average|
Background: The success that Denver has achieved of late is reflected in the fact that they are 35-2-6 during the past two seasons. Denver is an impressive 59-13-11 over the past four seasons, posting the third-best record in the country during that period of time. In 2016, Denver became the first team since Clemson did so in 1977-78 to finish consecutive regular seasons unbeaten.
The Pioneers moved from the Mountain Pacific Sport Federation to the Summit League in 2013. Since joining the Summit League they have won four consectutive regular season and tournament titles.
Denver has secured a total of seven NCAA Tournament berths including the last four seasons in a row (1970, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016).
In 2015 the Pioneers concluded regular season play unbeaten for the first time in the history of the program. They were subsequently awarded the number thirteen seed in the NCAA Tournament but their stay in the tournament was cut short when they were upset at home by SMU.
The Pioneers responded in 2016 by again winning the Summit League regular season and tournament titles. They had impressive regular season non-conference wins over Rutgers, Northwestern, Saint Louis, New Mexico and Portland and a tie on the road with Creighton. .
The Pioneers were awarded the number six seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and advanced past UNLV, Washington, and Clemson to earn the programs first ever trip to the College Cup (Final Four).
Denver's historic and barrier breaking 2016 season came to an end when they were topped by Wake Forest 2-1 in double overtime in the semifinals of the College Cup. They were ranked as the number three team in the nation in the NSCAA and College Soccer News Final 2016 Polls.
Back Reagan Dunk was named a First Team All-American by the NSCAA and College Soccer News in 2016. Dunk was also named the Summit League Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Nick Gardner was named the 2016 Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year. Dunk and Gardner were named All-Summit League First Team selections along with back Kortne Ford and midfielders Sam Hamilton and Karsten Hanlin. Forwards Blake Elder and Andre Shinyashiki, midfielder Graham Smith, and back Scott DeVoss were 2016 All-Summit League Second Team selections.
Denver head coach Jamie Franks and his staff that included assistants Ryan Hopkins and Levi Rossi among others were named the 2016 National Coaching Staff of the Year by the NSCAA. Franks was also named the Summit League Coach of the Year in both 2015 and 2016.
|Number Starters Returning in 2017: Six|
Offense: Devner returns three of its top-four goal scorers from the 2016 team including players who netted a total of twenty-nine of the forty goals they placed in the back of the net in 2016.
The departures of midfielder Karsten Hanlin (5g, 8a) who was a four-year starter, center back Kortne Ford (5g, 2a) who was a starter for two seasons, and speedy outside midfielder Chandler Crosswait (1g, 6a) who was a two-year starter create a void that must be filled on the offensive side of the ball.
Denver's attack will begin and depend to a large extent in 2017 on the play up-top of redshirt senior Blake Elder (7g, 2a) and junior Andre Shinyashiki (9g, 5a). Elder, who transferred to Denver after playing his freshman and sophomore seasons at Air Force, became the first player in Denver history at the Division I level to score in four consecutive matches last year. Shinyashiki, who had five game winning goals last year, has found the back of the net a total of fourteen times in two seasons.
If healthy, redshirt senior forward Eric Kronenberg who led the Pioneer attack with seven goals in 2014 but redshirted the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injury could add another yet dimension to the Pioneer offense. Redshirt forward sophomore Ryan Schaefer (1g, 0a) who came off the pine to appear in twenty-one contests last year is among other returning players who will seek to play a greater role in 2017.
Senior Alex Underwood (5g, 5a) returns to set the pace and add to the offense in the midfield. Underwood will enter the 2017 season with two years of starting experience under his belt. Senior Graham Smith (3g, 3a), who was a starter last year after transferring in from Oregon State, will also be a key in the crucial defensive midfielder role. Both Underwood and Smith look to be key team leaders.
Senior Kyle Morlack who saw action in thirteen contests last year, junior Ken Akamatsu (1g, 2a) who played in all twenty-four contests, and sophomore Ryan Barlow who appeared in fourteen games in 2016 will also factor into the rotation in the midfield. Destan Norman looks to be among several of the newcomers who have the potential to compete for playing time in the midfield sooner rather than later.
Defense: Tenacious defense has played an important role in the success that the program has enjoyed. The Pioneers allowed a total of eight goals in 2015 and thirteen in 2016.
Last year they recorded a new program record fourteen shutouts while posting a goals against average of 0.52 which was third best in the country. It is noteworthy that Denver did not allow a shot on goal in five contests.
Denver will enter the 2017 season with gaps to plug on the defensive side of the ball due to the graduation of four-year starter and All-American right back Reagan Dunk (0g, 5a) and defensive midfielder Sam Hamilton (0g, 9a) who was a three-year starter.
They also have big shoes to fill due to the loss of center back Kortne Ford who was an impact player on both sides of the ball. Ford elected to forgo his senior season in order to fullfil a lifelong goal of playing professional soccer when he signed a homegrown contract with the Colorado Rapids.
Reloading will be required on the defensive side of the ball but a solid foundation of returning players are on board upon which to build along with several newcomers who could contribute immediately.
Redshirt junior center back Scott Devoss (2g, 1a) and senior back A.J. Fuller (1g, 0a) have been starters the past two seasons. Junior Tosh Samkange who appeared in ten contests with one start last year, redshirt sophomore Dan Mooney and redshirt freshman Tobi Jnohope are among other returning defenders who look to be in the mix for a greater role in the back in 2017.
Redshirt junior Nick Gardner returns in goal to anchor the defense after a very effective 2016 season in which he had a 0.54 goals against average and posted thirteen shutouts.
Coach Franks stated, "From top to bottom we feel that this is one of the best classes that we've ever had here at the University of Denver. With five Colorado kids, we feel extremely comfortable with understanding who the student-athletes are, who they can be and ultimately understanding what makes them tick." Franks added, "We expect this class to be able to hit the ground running when they get here this fall."
Bailey Heller – Defender – Highland Ranch, Colorado – Played with the Colorado Rapids Development Academy. Prior to that played with Real Colorado. Invited to the U-18 Men's National Team Camp.
Destan Norman – Midfielder – Fort Collins, Colorado – Fort Collins HIgh School – Played for Real Colorado Development Academy. Invited to the Colorado Boys All-Star game in 2016.
Kobe Gray – Goalkeeper – Highlands Ranch, Colorado – Played for Real Colorado for thirteen seasons.
Brooks Crawford – Forward – Greenwood Village, Colorado – Kent Denver – Played for Colorado Rapids Development Academy. Played for Kent Denver High School his freshman season before Colorado Rapids Development Academy.
Jared Jungjohann – Defender – HIghlands Ranch, Colorado – Played for Real Colorado.
Alex Kaddah – Defender – Blue Springs, Missouri – Played for Sporting KC Development Academy. Played with U.S. National Futsal team.
Prognosis for 2017: Denver will return a lot of experience and talent from the 2016 team that won twenty contests and that advanced to the College Cup. They also face the challenge of replacing five veteran starters who were mainstays during their tenure with the program.
Despite the level of talent returning, uncetainties always exist anytime there are key gaps to plug. As a result several critical success factors appear to exist for Denver heading into the 2017 season.
The first is the need for continued improvement in the level of play of key returning players like forwards Andre Shinyashiki and Blake Elder, midfielders Alex Underwood and Graham Smith, backs Scott Devoss and AJ Fuller and goalkeeper Nick Gardner.
The second is continued consistency and effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball considering the voids that must be filled due to the departure of defensive midfielder Sam Hamilton (0g, 9a), right back Reagan Dunk (0g, 5a) and center back Kortne Ford (5g, 2a). Stinginess on the defensive side of the ball is vital since it ensures continued competitiveness against anyone.
The third factor is whether or not the group of players who were not in starting roles last year or had redshirt seasons have the expected bump in the level of their play needed for Denver to continue to prevail at the highest level. .
The fourth is the level of senior leadership provided by guys like Underwood, Smith, and AJ Fuller among others. Senior leadership has a lot to do with whether the newcomers and the younger returning players who have to assume a greater role fully understand the standards and expectations that have been one of the hallmarks of the program.
The last critical factor is just how hungry Denver is for continued success in 2017. The Pioneers were a unified and focused team in 2016 from the get-go perhaps fueled in part by their early loss at home in the 2015 NCAA Tournament which likely left a bad taste in their mouths. Will they be as hungry and focused in 2017?
The bottom line is that Denver should again be a very competitive team in 2017. The Pioneers will have a ton of momentum, talent, and experience. The culture of the program and the fact that they are a very cohesive bunch are also huge plusses. .
If everything falls into place, repeat Summit League regular season and tournament titles, another high national ranking, and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament are not out of the question. Look for the Pioneer's performance in the early going against non-conference opponents to be a good indicator of just how competitive and hungry they will be in 2017.