PREVIEW: Lopez looks to put Tigers on the right track in 2017

PREVIEW: Lopez looks to put Tigers on the right track in 2017

MITCHELL, S.D. – The 2017 Dakota Wesleyan University men's soccer team has a new face leading them this season as head coach Jose Lopez looks to bring the winning ways he was accustomed to seeing while playing for the Tigers from 2009-2012. Lopez hopes to lead the Tigers back to postseason play, while also growing the team in the classroom as well.

  "Soccer wise, I want to get back into the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament," Lopez said. "In the classroom we are going to bring that GPA up to a 3.0."

 Last season, DWU finished 3-13 overall with a record of 2-7 in the GPAC. The Tigers return 16 players while bringing in eight new faces. The team will rely on four seniors and a plethora of young talent to lead the squad during the 2017 season.

 "We have a young team, but I believe (Derek) Brenner and Connor (Dodds) will set the tone right away," Lopez said. "With the help of Gage (Pemberton) and Gaston (Miteff) we could have a good season."

 Brenner (Yankton, S.D.) will be looked upon to lead the team in his final campaign in a Tiger uniform. He finished with three assists, 17 shots and five shots on goal during the 2016 season. Over the span of his career, Brenner has totaled five goals, four assists, 39 shots and 18 shots on goal. He will have to rely on help from his teammates to find success on the offensive front for the Tigers.

 After leading scorer Peter Wartenberg graduated last year, junior Connor Dodds (Durham, England) will look to compliment Brenner at the midfield position following a season where he was second on the team in goals. Last year, he finished with two goals, one assist, 13 shots and 10 shots on goal. Dodds saw action in 15 games while starting 14 games a season ago.

 Miteff (Berazategui, Argentina) looks to build off his sophomore season as the goalkeeper for the Tigers and have a successful junior campaign. Following the 2016 season, Miteff ranked seventh in the NAIA in saves per game with 7.7 and ranked 10th nationally in total saves with 108 on the season. Miteff had season-highs in saves against Northwestern College and Midland University with 15 in each game.

 Sophomores Gage Pemberton (Overland Park, Kan.) and Derek Leiferman (Pierre, S.D.) will also be leaders on the field for the young group of Tigers. Pemberton started in 15 games and finished with one goal and nine shots while Leiferman saw action in 14 games for DWU.

 Two freshmen that Lopez will rely on include Chandler Briggs (Springfield, Neb.) and Reece Weber (Brookings, S.D.). Briggs tallied 47 goals and 12 assists in his career for Platteview High School. He was also named a three-time All-ITG Player of the Year and three-time All-State Honorable Mention. Weber was a three-time varsity letterwinner in high school as well as the 2015 ESD Conference Champion. He was named All-ESD First Team his senior year and was tagged the title of team captain his senior and junior seasons.

 "Both individuals bring in work ethic and willingness to learn," Lopez said. "I see both of them becoming huge assets to the team, but most exciting is the potential they have."

 A key for the Tigers this season will be hosting 13 games at the Pepsi-Cola Soccer Complex. Last season, DWU only hosted seven games, five of which were in the last eight games of the season. The entire month of September, the Tigers did not play on their home field. This season, they will play five of their first six games in front of their home fans. This may be advantageous for a young DWU team that will look to feed off each other in front of their home fans.

 "We are looking to use that to our advantage," Lopez said about playing 13 games at home. "Being home will hopefully rally our guys to fight for each other."

 The Tigers open the regular season at home against Iowa Lakes Community College in an exhibition game at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Pepsi-Cola Soccer Complex in Mitchell, S.D.