Fresh Start For Men’s Soccer

Big things are happening with UC Irvine’s Men’s Soccer team these days. On Dec. 17 the No. 15 Anteaters were titled 2013 Big West Champions and made their way to the NCAA Sweet 16. The Anteaters then traveled to Maryland, where they fell to the No. 2 University of Maryland Terrapins in the NCAA Tournament. Just a few weeks after the soccer season came to an end, the team’s assistant coach of 17 years, Chris Volk, was named the head coach of the Anteaters.

UC Irvine’s Men’s Soccer team has made it to the NCAA Tournament four times in school history and has traveled twice to the Round of 16; Coach Volk has undoubtedly played a crucial role in the Anteaters’ immense success throughout the years.

Prior to his career at UCI, Coach Volk served as the assistant soccer coach for San Diego State from 1995-1996, where he also played collegiately from ’87  to ’91. In ’94 he served as the assistant coach to the Mesa Junior College women’s soccer team and was the head goalkeeper coach for the men’s team. In addition, he played keeper for the Anaheim Splash in 1996 and made his way to UCI soon after.

During his years here, Coach Volk also served as UCI’s primary goalkeeper coach; under his direction, the Anteaters have held an incredible ‘goals-against average’, and even attained a No. 6 national ranking in 2006.

“[Over the years] there’s been a lot of growth and development here at the university,” Coach Volk said. “This campus is very attractive for students and student-athletes alike, in different disciplines; it’s a great place to go to school,” he continued.

Coach Volk stressed the tremendous growth in athletics at UCI. “What’s nice is that our athletics department has put a lot of resources to making all of our programs more successful; and the soccer team is definitely one of those programs.”

The players are very positive and thrilled for Coach Volk’s position as head coach. “I’m excited about the change and I think it will be a good opportunity for our team to thrive with new leadership. I think with Coach Volk it will give the players a chance to play more freely and dynamically, as I believe he will give us more freedom to be creative on the field,” Cameron Iwasa, junior forward, said.

“I’m sure I could speak for a good number of the team that we’re extremely excited about a returning coach, especially one that’s helped us throughout the years, and we can expect the same exact output, same mentality, same type of game, same type of play that we’ve been accustomed to,” Mitchell Alvarez,  junior midfielder, said.

Senior midfielder Christopher Santana stated, “Personally, I think Coach Volk has been a huge part in the success of this program in recent years and with his experience and commitment there is no doubt in my mind he will continue to push this program to the next level.”

The reason for former head soccer coach George Kuntz’s departure from the Anteaters has been unidentified; Coach Kuntz was unable to be reached for further details.

However, what is important is not to be concerned about occurrences of the past, but to look forward into to a bright and positive future. Change is a good thing, and Coach Chris Volk has the experience, the knowledge and the humble yet firm personality needed to lead the Anteaters to greatness.

Since Coach Volk’s position as the soccer team’s head coach, no further changes have been made to the coaching staff. “We’re still in the hiring process right now,” Coach Volk said. “There is a lot of increase for the vacant position, but there haven’t been any additions to the coaching staff.”

The start of a new year brings a fresh start for the team and for the coach as well. How they work and train individually, and as a team from this point forward will determine their performance and their results in their upcoming 2014-2015 season.

“We met on Monday right after the break, had a team meeting, and laid out expectations for the group. Tuesday they had a fitness test, they were in our brand new [weight room], the Santora Elite Training Center. [Wednesday] they have another fitness test and then we’re back at our regimen at straight conditioning four days a week,” Coach Volk said. The team is to begin regular soccer practices later in the month.

Preparation for a new season also brings about one very significant change to the team; the loss of their four graduating seniors, Enrique ‘Keykeh’ Cardenas, Christopher ‘Chino’ Santana, Marco Franco and Tarek Morad.

The four seniors are currently at a very crucial point in their soccer careers. All four are prospects for the MLS (Major League Soccer) SuperDraft, giving them the opportunity to play at a professional level in the United States. Keykeh Cardenas and Marco Franco are traveling to Florida on Jan. 10 to participate in a five day MLS Player Combine. “If things go well [at the combine] we hope that they get an opportunity to get drafted and play professionally,” Coach Volk said. “Tarek and Chino are both being looked at. They’re not being invited to the combine, but I know they’re going to have opportunities to play beyond as well,” Coach Volk continued.

“I feel like I could prove somebody wrong, prove to just one team to take a chance on me. I’m going to go up there and play my game, not try and do too much or do something that isn’t my game, because I want to go to a team that appreciates me as a player; my work ethic, my soccer IQ, and my technical ability and not solely on my physicality,” Cardenas said in a statement.

“It gives me something to prove that I do belong there. I just want to go there and show teams what I have, to get drafted, and play professional soccer,” Marco Franco said.

According to UCI Athletics, the 2014 MLS SuperDraft will feature four rounds, no supplement draft, and 77 selections. Cardenas, Franco, Santana and Morad will find out on Jan. 16 if they have been selected, as the draft kicks off at 9:00 a.m. Pacific time in Pennsylvania.

Following the four rounds of the MLS combine, the NASL (North American Soccer League) will host a combine here on UC Irvine’s campus from Jan. 24-26. Players that have not been drafted into an MLS team are expected to play at the combine to showcase for NASL clubs.

Although Coach Volk is losing four great talents from his team, he is confident that with the returning team members, including the four players coming off of knee injuries, and the seven committed recruits coming in, the future of the team is radiant. “What we lose we have the ability to complement from within and then with new talent coming in from recruits,” Coach Volk said.

Coach Volk further explained how he is actively trying to set up a spring schedule for the team. “Real Salt Lake professional team trained here last year on our campus. We got a friendly game against them. [This year], we’ve got a game lined up with them already on campus… I think it would be a great event to try and get students out to, to see a pro team play a college team right here on campus,” Coach Volk said.

Nothing short of greatness and excellence is expected from the men of UC Irvine soccer. With strong leadership, encouragement and guidance from Coach Chris Volk, the men’s soccer team is certainly headed toward tremendous triumph. As for the graduating seniors, they have without a doubt made their mark on this campus. No matter where their futures take them, their brilliant skill and perseverant work will fuel their prosperity. Their talent and their monumental success will serve as inspiration to players for years to come.