The Hannibal-LaGrange University men’s soccer team is a melting pot with players hailing from eight different countries.
Inevitably, the Trojans enter the 2018 season with distinct backgrounds and contrasting views on how to best play the game. The key will be whether they can become a united force on the field.
So far, so good, according to HLGU coach David Erskine.
“We have lots of different ideas of how the game should be played because there are lots of different cultures and different areas where guys grew up,” Erskine said. “But with this group, I haven’t seen that be a huge issue. They’ve been really good about listening to what’s being said and trying to incorporate that into the game.”
HLGU, which opens the new campaign Aug. 30 with a home match against Culver-Stockton, looks to improve upon a 10-7-1 record a year ago.
The program hopes to produce a season reminiscent of two years ago, when the Trojans were unbeaten in American Midwest Conference play and qualified for the NAIA Tournament.
“We’re going to rely on everybody to do their part because we’re a team,” Erskine said. “There’s not one guy who will carry the team. Everybody will have responsibilities and we need to step up to fulfill them as a team.”
Isaac Lehmkuhl (Troy, Mo.) returns for his senior year as the only player to start all 18 games for HLGU last season, when the standout led the team with 12 goals, including four game-winners.
Lehmkuhl figures to again be a key component of the offense, which last year ranked second in the AMC with 7.22 shots on goal per game.
“Isaac works hard and puts himself in the right position,” Erskine said of his senior leader. “I expect him to be scoring goals this year. If he’s not scoring goals, we’re not doing something right as a team, not necessarily that he’s not doing something right.”
Santiago Diaz (Santiago, Chile) will be an anchor for the defense from the center back position.
Diaz started 17 games last year as HLGU allowed a stingy average of 1.11 goals per game.
“Santiago is a phenomenal leader and has already undertaken that role this year in helping the freshmen prepare,” Erskine said. “He’s taken a lot of new guys under his wing.”
Other top returners for HLGU include junior midfielder Hugo Lopez (Lima, Peru), senior midfielder Philip Kamletz (Owasso, Okla.) and junior defender Diego Beltramin (Santiago, Chile).
Hanry Ramos (Belo Horizonte, Brazil), who started 14 games two years ago, will be back on the pitch this fall after being ineligible last season. Ramos is projected as a defender or midfielder.
The Trojans have three goalkeepers competing for the starting role between the pipes: 6-foot-3 freshman Rafael Todaro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 6-2 freshman Ajay Murray (St. Catherine, Jamaica) and 5-7 junior Micah Thompson (Douglas, Wyo.).
“We’re working it out,” Erskine said. “I prefer to have one who’s the guy. But if there are pros and cons to their game, and one is better in some situations, then I may switch based on the game.”
Erskine mentioned the 12 freshmen on the squad will have the chance to prove themselves in preseason.
The Trojans’ starting lineup has yet to be finalized.
“I want this team to work together and play their best and come to practice ready every day,” Erskine said. “If they do those things, they’ll win games. Getting all the new guys on the same page is a whole other story, so that’s what we’re working toward.”