STORY BY CAYDEN SANDERS
PHOTOS BY FIORELLA MENDEZ
Gerry Cleary and the Fort Hays State University men’s soccer team had another excellent season in 2021. With a national quarterfinal finish in the NCAA Division II postseason last year, the Tigers have the same goals of getting to the final four in Seattle, Washington, this season. How they get there will be determined, but Cleary likes what he sees with his team two weeks into the fall season.
“We have been doing three practices a day, have had 28 sessions so far, and this team is looking ready,” Cleary said.
Seniors on this team will be the leaders of this squad with two returning seniors who played major minutes last fall – forward Blake Arndt and keeper Kieran Brown. Arndt was the leading goal scorer for the Tigers last season and ranked third last season for most scored winning goals (6) in a season. Arndt also earned all-GAC/MIAA first-team and national honors with D2CCA All-Cental Region first team, along with United Soccer Coaches All-Central region first team.
“We are a little bit better attacking this year than last year,” Cleary said. “Blake will be one of them, but as a team, we will be good.”
Brown will be another key piece back for the Tigers as he put up program numbers for the Tigers last season. Brown tied the school’s record in saves in a season (82), which was 18th most in Division II soccer. He also set the mark for most wins by a goalkeeper in a season (15) and earned eight clean sheets, which ranked 11th best in Division II. He was awarded All-MIAA first team goalkeeper and D2CCA All-Central region first team.
However, fellow senior Ben Dixon has also been in the mix in goal ahead of the 2022 season.
“Kiernan has been playing for us, but Dixon has been getting action in the spring for us,” Cleary said. “It helps that we have our goalkeepers back this season.”
While the Tigers’ future looks bright, the team needs to replace former captain Alec Bevis, who was a leader for the defensive line last season. Cleary said he feels he has the players that will fill the role Bevis left.
Fort Hays finished the preseason with one final scrimmage against the McPerson College (NAIA) Bulldogs last week.
“I felt we played great tonight, this was our best game this year so far, but we will see how the year goes with our first game on Thursday.” Cleary said
The Tigers will begin their 2022 season at home against Colorado State University-Pueblo at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday at FHSU Soccer Stadium.