An offseason to prepare

The Oakland University men’s soccer team won the Summit League regular season title last year, set a Division I record with 14 wins and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The team finished with a win, a loss and a tie in the spring season and kicks off the 2009-2010 season Aug. 19. The Oakland Post sat down with new head coach Eric Pogue to discuss his new role in the soccer program and the upcoming season.

How did your years as an assistant coach at OU prepare you to take over the head-coaching job?

It was a great learning experience working under [former head coach] Gary [Parsons] for eight years. He allowed me to take on quite a bit of responsibility and get involved in every aspect of running a Division I soccer program with the hope and expectation that I would take over for him eventually.

How did the spring season go?  

We graduated out five seniors and the spring provided a lot of opportunities for our young players to show us what they have and step into some vital roles. It allowed us to see some new leaders on the team take shape.

Have the team captains been determined?

We’ve got four guys that are going to be seniors — Stew Givens, Sebastian Harris, Machel James and Stefan St. Louis — that have really stepped up and taken on additional responsibilities.  They’ve been announced as captains for preseason. We’ll make our final determination before our first game.

What can you tell us about the incoming recruits?  Do you expect major contributions from any of them this season?

We’ve got 13 recruits coming in. We recruited some good, young players over the last four years with the expectation that they were going to step in and help fill in the voids of those [five seniors we lost to graduation].

I told [the recruits] we have a lot of holes to fill and they’ll be given every opportunity just like those guys who have been working to earn a starting job.  When [team practices begin], every position on the field is open to be won.  It could mean starting off the bench or putting a year or two in developing their game so they can help us down the road.

How will you replace the steady goalkeeping Steve Clark provided last season?

Mitch Hildebrandt has been Steve’s understudy for the last two years. He’ll be a red-shirt sophomore next year. He was a Dream Team all-state first team goalkeeper out of Livonia Stevenson a couple years back. 

He’s a very high-level goalkeeper. He got a chance, unfortunately, when Steve was red-carded in the Summit League semifinal. Mitch stepped in right away and got the chance against Ohio State and did quite well. 

He’s playing this summer with the Kalamazoo Outrage in the Premier Development League. He got a starting job there. So we’re confident he’s going to be able to step in and fill Steve’s shoes.


Who are some underclassmen to watch this season?

I think Tommy Catalano is poised in his sophomore year to really step in and become an extremely high-level player for us. You’re going to see a little more out of Vuk Popovic, [a sophomore] from Serbia. This will be a good opportunity for Mitch Hildebrandt to take his next steps. After that, we’re going to be looking at [junior] Makesi Lewis to contribute to our goal scoring. 

Those will probably be some key guys to look for and then we’ve got an awful lot of young, unproven guys that are going to be battling.

You won the Summit League last season. Do you expect to defend that title successfully this fall?   

That’s always one of our goals. It’s a real competitive schedule. Any team on any given day can beat anybody. I think a number of teams in the Summit League will be a difficult test for us.

Oakland is playing host to the Summit League Tournament on campus this year. What do you think about potentially winning the tournament at home?

I think it’d be extra significant for us to win the title on our home field, but there’s a lot of work to be done and I think our main goal is to win the regular season title, which would put us in position to compete for the Summit League Tournament title.

What is the team doing in the offseason to prepare for the fall?

There are a lot of guys doing voluntary training with our strength and conditioning coach, Todd Wohlfeil. There are guys playing on summer league teams in the Premier Development League.

And what have you been doing this offseason?

I’ve been focusing on finalizing the 2009 recruiting, but also digging in and working hard on the 2010 recruiting class. Then I’m starting to lay some of the foundations on what we’re going to be looking to do and accomplish as a soccer program leading into the fall.