Aug 16, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - With the team’s first few practices in the books, www.ucdavisaggies.com sat down with men’s soccer head coach Dwayne Shaffer before the start of his 17th season at the helm. In the following 10 questions, Shaffer dishes on many topics, including last season's success, the leaders on this year's roster and the Aggies' tough schedule in 2013.
1. You’re coming off a Big West North Division title and an appearance in the conference tournament title game, how big was the 2012 season for the growth of your program?
Shaffer: “I think 2012 got us back to the level of soccer and competitiveness that we were used to in my career at UC Davis. We had a couple seasons where we were really, really good and then lost a lot of upperclassmen over a two-year period and, unfortunately, we kind of dropped off a little bit. But then in 2010, 2011 and 2012, we jumped back on track. We’ve developed a lot of depth in the program, a lot of talent in the program and some experience on top of it. All three of those things combined to get us back to the top of the Big West Conference and helped us become North Division champions last year.”
2. In addition to the Big West North Division championship, your team went 3-0-1 against top-25 opponents last season. How close are the Aggies to being back on the national scene?
Shaffer: “I think we’re really close to being back and being competitive at that national level. We have strong juniors and senior now but great freshmen and sophomores behind them, that are ready and prepared to take over when their time comes. I think that’s why we’ve done so well against top-25 teams, we have the depth to compete with those programs. We’ve proven that on any given day, we can beat anyone in the country. In order to do it consistently you need depth, experience and talent and I think we have those three things in a group of motivated young men.”
3. You return a ton of talent off last year’s team, including nine starters. Have you ever had a roster this experienced and how valuable is that?
Shaffer: “We’ve had some really experienced rosters in the past. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 we were very experienced, but this group of guys is primed and ready to go in much the same way. Some players on our team now – like Alex Aguiar, Kevin Schulte and Alex Henry – have been starters since their freshman season. They have all that experience built up behind them now. Then you add in upperclassmen like Brian Ford, Ramon Martin Del Campo, Matt Sheldon and Matt Wiesenfarth, and all of a sudden it’s an experienced group of guys out on the field. I remember in 2010, when we went down to Cal State Fullerton and it was such an inexperienced group of players, they didn’t even know where the locker room was. Which was just shocking to me. I’m standing there as we get off the bus saying, “Ok, you guys go change in the locker room and meet me at the field, and they’re like ‘Where is it coach?’ Nobody knew.” Now these guys all understand what it is like to play at Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Sacramento State. They know all the facilities, all the fields and all the crowds. It’s a tremendous help and advantage for us. It will help us be prepared and ready to compete in every game.”
4. Who could assume a leadership role on the team this year?
Shaffer: “I think we have three outstanding leaders right now - Brian Ford, Ramon Martin Del Campo and Alex Aguiar. All are vocal and strong leaders. Those three are all very good and they lead by example as well. But the beauty of this group, with so much experience, those three guys don’t need to hold people’s hands. This team is way more about taking your own initiative and holding yourself responsible.”
5. Last season you had 23 total goals as a team, but no player had more than three. Is that by design, having a balanced attack like that?
Shaffer: “No, no, I’m waiting for someone to score 10 or 15 goals in a season for us! I think if one or two of our players can get on a scoring streak, we can be an outstanding team. Our goal scoring is probably the one area we work the most on. We have the talent to score in bunches and there is a good competition for the spots up front right now. We just need one or two kids to get hot and I feel like we can be really strong.”
6. The strength of this year’s team will probably be on defense, with all four starting defenders back plus goalkeeper Omar Zeenni. How do those guys complement each other on the backline?
Shaffer: “Collectively, that is just a really, really good group. Brian Ford and Ramon Martin Del Campo have the fighting spirit and they are defensive soccer players by nature. They are vocal and complement each other very well. Ramon is big and strong and can organize the defense well in the air. Brian is a fantastic one-on-one defender and has excellent speed. Those two work so well together in the center of the defense. Alex Henry and Ryan Gross were both midfielders during their youth careers but played outside back for us last year. Ryan might actually move up to central midfielder to replace Mustafa Chopan, so the right back spot is wide open. Elliot Hord is fighting for the spot and he had a great spring for us. All five are experienced working together. They have that toughness where they take it personally when the other team scores. That’s what I like about our defense.”
7. Omar Zeenni led the conference last season in goals against average in Big West games. Going into his senior season, are there any areas where he can improve after such a strong year?
Shaffer: “He is still improving quite a bit actually. One of his biggest strength is his desire to improve. He’s a soccer junky. He watches the game, he wants to be a pro and is doing everything he can to get better each day. One day he will be a great coach, because he sees the game really well. He is always in the right position, cutting off angles and seeing the play develop in front of him. He’s exceptionally good with his feet, so his ball distribution is strong. He’s also a very good vocal leader. He’s trained so hard over the last year and half and he’s gotten himself into peak fitness and I look forward to watching him grow this year.”
8. You had the luxury of redshirting some players last season and have two freshmen coming in. Who could contribute this year out of that group?
Shaffer: “Of the redshirts we had last season, one that stands out is Dashiell MacNamara. Dash was good enough to play for us last season. He’s a striker who is extremely quick and technically sound. He has a good work rate and has a high soccer IQ. He’s actually grown, physically, since he’s been here and gotten stronger. He’s still not the biggest kid, but he’s probably the quickest player on our team. Plus he can really score. We have a young man from Australia, Kirk Kappelhoff, who will be a solid contributor in the midfield for us this year. He’s very smart, has a great work rate and an excellent attitude. Armando Quezada will be battling to back up Omar this season at goalkeeper. Spencer Williams is another very good technical player, can play midfield or defense. He improved tremendously through our fall and spring season last year. He should definitely contribute and add depth this year. As for the freshmen, Justin Kitts is a physically strong striker and plays with an edge. He has quick feet and a good pace. He scored a ton of goals in his youth career. Logan Magonigal is tall, athletic and fast and can play on the outside, either midfield or defense. Physically, he has all the characteristics we want in players. We’re looking forward to seeing how both of those kids develop with us this year and beyond.”
9. You’ve always said you’ll play any team, anywhere. What are your thoughts on the non-conference schedule this year?
Shaffer: “I feel like we have another very good non-conference schedule. We start the season up at Portland (Aug. 30). They fell just short of making the NCAA Tournament, kind of like we did. They have a great facility up there and it should be an excellent atmosphere to play in. This will be the first time one of my teams has played up at Portland. We’ll visit Oregon State (Sept. 1) on that same trip. Any time you’re playing a Pac-12 team, you know it’s going to be a good battle. We have a couple regional opponents here at home. Seattle U (Sept. 6) brought back its old head coach who had a ton of success there. Then CSU Bakersfield (Sept. 8) is always a well-coached team with a ton of talent. They were right in the thick of it the last two years. We’ll play a few WCC schools next, including San Diego (Sept. 20), who went to the Elite Eight last season. We end the non-conference schedule at New Mexico (Sept. 27), which is one of the top teams in the country every year. They’ve been ranked No. 1 in the nation multiple times over the last few seasons. That will be a huge game for us in front of a big crowd. Not a lot of people want to go play New Mexico on the road, but if somebody is willing to give us a chance to play in that kind of environment, I’ll always take advantage of it.”
10. The Big West is always one of the best soccer conferences in the nation, how do you think it will shake out this year?
Shaffer: “I think everybody in the Big West is going to be better than they were last year. A ton of returning talent. In our division, UC Santa Barbara is always strong. Cal Poly was a young team last year, but still very good, while Sacramento State has a couple new players this year who are very skilled. Cal State Northridge is a lot like us, they return pretty much everyone off last year’s roster. Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine were both young last season while UC Riverside is kind of the unknown. Their head coach left to join MLS, so it will be interesting what kind of team they are. The Big West is going to be a great league again this year, like it always is. We’re always in the top-4 in the RPI and this year I expect nothing less. It’s going to be a battle.”