Fort Lewis Men’s Soccer – The Durango Herald

Skyhawks bring in a mix of transfers, international students and American rookies

Fort Lewis College men’s soccer head coach David Oberholtzer barks instructions to his team last season. Oberholtzer and his staff brought in a good mix of transfers, internationals and American freshmen to help the Skyhawks return to the NCAA Tournament in 2024. (Photo from Jerry McBride/Durango Herald archives)

Jerry McBride

Fall varsity sports are only about a month away from starting practice. Before that happens, it’s prudent to check in on what new faces will be joining the Fort Lewis fall sports programs.

Five or 10 years ago, offseason roster movements in college sports were mostly about players graduating and freshmen coming in. Now, with the transfer portal and players not having to sit out a year after transferring, college rosters are much more fluid and it’s harder for fans to keep track of who is and isn’t on the roster.

This is why, Durango Herald will take a look at the offseason acquisitions made by each FLC team in the high school and transfer portal.

The first team to begin play was arguably the most successful sports team of last fall – the Skyhawks men’s soccer team.

FLC went 12-5-4 overall and 6-1-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Skyhawks won 12 games for only the second time since 2011 and captured the RMAC regular-season championship. FLC advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament and lost in the second round.

“We feel like we’re in a good spot with a lot of strong players coming back from a strong team last year,” said Skyhawks men’s soccer head coach David Oberholtzer. “That sets us up to be competitive and in a good spot. We’ve got a pretty good group coming in. We’re really happy with the mix of guys that are coming in and how they’re going to complement the rest of the group.”

The Skyhawks return seven of their top eight point scorers. Despite that and more than a dozen new players in the program, FLC did not lose any key contributors to the transfer portal. Oberholtzer attributed that to the strong culture in the program and strong team chemistry last season.

Oberholtzer brought in five juniors and a sophomore from the transfer portal. He said he appreciates the maturity of the players, as they have several years of college football under their belts. Oberholtzer knows there are a lot of good college players across the country, and the Skyhawks, FLC and the city of Durango are attractive transfer options.

Three of the incoming transfers come from Utah State Eastern, a high school in Price, Utah. Junior defenders Casey Stracher, Austin Tesch and junior midfielder Aiden McMullin played with senior midfielder Thomas Kirkham at Utah State Eastern before Kirkham joined the Skyhawks for the 2023 season.

“It says a lot about the culture of our program, Fort Lewis and the city of Durango in general when we have players in the program who are having great moments and can pass on those positive messages to their friends who are playing at a good level,” Oberholtzer said.

Oberholtzer said the coaching staff knew this year’s recruiting class needed to step up at all positions, but especially at center midfield, after the graduation of midfielder Loic Jean-Baptiste, and at right back, after the graduation of Cieran Feeney.

Oberholtzer wanted to bring in freshmen and transfers that would motivate the returnees and keep them on their toes. His goal for his squad is to have 28 players who will compete and all be available to play if needed.

Players from other countries have competed at Dirks Field for the Skyhawks for years, and this year there are a number of new international players.

Oberholtzer believes international players are interested in the opportunity to get a good education and continue playing at a high level on the diverse campus that FLC provides.

The Skyhawks coach said he is intrigued by the number of international players they are acquiring, and it is difficult to say which of them will adjust to playing in a Division II college league.

But Oberholtzer said he was particularly excited about new international rookies Theo Bergman and Julian Rojas. Bergman hails from Uddevalla, Sweden, and is a commanding 6-foot-3, 181-pound prospect. Oberholtzer said he’ll be an immediate presence on the offensive end thanks to his size, speed and athleticism, which reminded the coaching staff of reigning RMAC Player of the Year and FLC sophomore Anton Hjalmarsson.

Rojas is from San José, Costa Rica, and is just 5-foot-6 and weighs 146 pounds. Oberholtzer said fans shouldn’t pay too much attention to his size because he’s fantastic on the ball, has great intelligence, passing skills and the stamina to keep him from getting knocked down.

The Skyhawks coaching staff also brings in a number of newcomers from the United States. Rookie goalie Tate Marshall was born in Portland, Ore., but is now from Denver. Rookie Jacob Ramos is from Fort Collins. Oberholtzer said both players played for Real Colorado outside of Denver, a club Oberholtzer and the Skyhawks program have a great relationship with, and many Skyhawks have come through there.

Two other notable newcomers are defenders Chase Larson and Billy Plett. Larson hails from Washington, which is part of a country with a lot of talent, according to Oberholtzer. Plett is from Winnipeg, Canada, but went to high school in England and spent time in Costa Rica. Oberholtzer credits Plett’s travels with helping him mature and gain experience as a player.

Oberholtzer appreciated the work assistant coach Dillon Nino has put in to bring such talented recruits to FLC.

The official start date for the Skyhawks’ preseason is Aug. 18, and Oberholtzer expects some players to arrive in town early to work with the strength and conditioning staff and get used to the altitude.

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