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Braves look to the future after semifinal loss

Freshman forward Danny Collins averaged 67 minutes of play this past season. Photo by William Craine.

The Bradley soccer team started the 2019 season in an interesting position. After an undefeated non-conference schedule, the team failed to qualify for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at the end of the season.

Determined to put the disappointing season behind them, the Braves began the newly formatted MVC season with a chip on their shoulder.

Bradley’s offseason moves included the addition of 13 new players and a spring exhibition win against Big Ten opponent Michigan State. However, the start of the fall season was slow. Only managing to win one of their first six games, the Braves got the ball rolling just in time for homecoming.

With a 2-1 win at Valparaiso on Oct. 1, Bradley went on to lose only three more games the rest of the regular season. Two of the losses came at the hands of undefeated and nationally ranked Missouri State. With this success, the Braves fell only one point short of earning the No. 2 seed for the MVC tournament.

At the conference tournament, Bradley achieved a first in program history. They beat Evansville 2-0 in the quarterfinal, marking the first time they’ve won against the same team three times in a single season.

Unfortunately for the Braves, their season ended in a 2-1 loss to Loyola in the semifinal. The Ramblers went on to win the tournament, clinching a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Head coach Jim DeRose was optimistic about what the tournament loss and season meant for the big picture of the program.

“We wanted to play meaningful games in November,” DeRose said. “We played the host and just fell a little short, but we put ourselves in position for a conference championship.”

After the semi-final loss, the Braves finished the season with a 5-3-2 conference record and a 8-7-4 overall record.

DeRose said the team is prepared to take to rebuild and replace key players it will lose by next fall.

“We would like to be playing this weekend, of course. But we still got to put in the work,” DeRose said. “It’s going to be a reboot.”

One of the players essential to the reboot will be freshman forward Danny Collins, who was named to the MVC All-Freshman Team and averaged 67 minutes per game.

“When he plays he’s willing to do all the hard work,” DeRose said. “He wants to make a difference.”

DeRose explained how the program recruits talent stating that the mission of the university is paramount.

Senior midfielder John Pollifrone fit the mold DeRose looks for, on and off the pitch. He was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Soccer Scholar-Athlete First Team last year and this year, just the tip of his academic achievements. Pollifrone plans to continue his education.

“I’ll be studying abroad in South Africa next semester,” Pollifrone said. “Then I plan to take a year off to prepare for the LSAT and we’ll go from there.”

Both he and Collins said what the future of the program holds.

“Coach DeRose has done a solid job recruiting, there’s a solid group of guys who have had some minutes,” Pollifrone said.

“We’ll miss the seniors, we’ll need other guys to step up,” Collins said. “We also have guys, that even if they didn’t play significant minutes, they have some experience.”

Of the top 11 minute-getters, six will return to the Shea Stadium pitch next fall. Only 56 percent of the points recorded will be back. However, the Braves return a number of key pieces, like leading scorer, junior Gerit Wintermeyer.

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