Putting NU on the map

Tim Orland

One would imagine that with a 1-13-3 record in 2001, Northwestern men’s soccer coach Tim Lenahan would have a tough time selling the Wildcats’ program. One would be wrong.

With 12 players signed for the Class of 2006, including many out-of-state stars, Lenahan has shown that he has one major selling point up his sleeve: a program on the rise.

“I wanted to join a program that was building up,” said Adrian Adkison, a midfielder from Novato, Calif. “How good the team was before I got there wasn’t really an issue.”

Adkison joins several other recruits who say they are excited to a join a program that has nowhere to go but up.

“They sound like they’ve got a real promise for the future,” incoming goalkeeper Brian Heckenbach said. “They seem to have a real positive outlook about building a program that will be respected nationwide.”

A key element in attaining that coveted spot on the national scene is recruiting across the country. Lenahan, in his first recruiting class at NU, has combined local talent with players from both coasts.

Eric Brin, a forward from Westlake Village, Calif., chose NU over Columbia, Brown and Stanford. A four-year starter at Westlake High School, Brin also played club soccer for the So Cal United and was selected to the California South State Olympic Development Program.

“Eric has a big body and can play with his back to the goal,” Lenahan said in a statement. “He has the ability to score goals as well as distribute the ball. He should help us improve our attack immediately and hopefully be a key goal scorer for us.”

Scoring is exactly what Brin plans to bring to the Cats. NU was outscored by its opponents 36-12 and outshot 300-125 last season.

“That’s what they recruited me for,” he said.

Two stars from the Chicago area will join Brin on NU’s squad in the fall.

Heckenbach and fellow recruit Jaro Pylypczak played together on the Chicago Sockers club team that won the Illinois state championship in 2000 and 2001.

Heckenbach, valedictorian of his high school in Algonquin, shared the sentiment of many of his fellow recruits.

“Academics were very big in my decision,” he said. “That just wasn’t something I was going to give up for a strong soccer program. NU met both of those needs really well.”

Pylypczak, a defender from Lombard, chose NU over Princeton and Pennsylvania.

“Jaro is the most valuable player on his club team, one of the nation’s best teams,” Lenahan said. “He is the glue that holds the team together because of his leadership, personality and competitive nature.”

Lenahan will also bring in two players from Michigan, club teammates Alexander Renzi and Chris Zdenik.

The two played under coach Jean-Pierre Renzi, Alexander’s father, for the Rochester Knights, capturing the Michigan state championship in 2000.

“We had always planned on going to college together,” Alexander said of his friend Zdenik. “It worked out really well for both of us.”

Jean-Pierre, who played professionally in France in the 1960s and 70s, said he is very excited to see his players come to NU.

“We have the same philosophy,” he said of himself and Lenahan. “He wants to develop the players for what’s the game’s all about: team effort, camaraderie, and discipline. He’s a purist.”

Jean-Pierre said his son’s vision on the field is his best asset.

“He sees the play before it’s happening,” the elder Renzi said. “He can see movements and make decisions. Instead of reacting, he’s acting.”

Zdenik should bring a lot of passion to the Cats, Renzi said.

“He has a great heart,” Renzi said. “He made tremendous progress in the first year or two (on the Knights). I’ve never seen him get beaten one-on-one.”

Adkison chose NU over Georgetown and Columbia. He said academics – and the opportunity to go to a good engineering school – were the deciding factors.

A four-year captain of his high school team and member of the ODP Region IV team in 2000, Adkison led his club team, the Santa Rosa Rebels, to the California North State Cup Finals in 2001.

“Adrian is a great athlete and has a great work ethic,” Lenahan said. “He will bring an upbeat personality and energy level to every practice and game.”

Adkison says he is very optimistic about the future of the Cats’ program.

“I think all the incoming freshmen, from what I’ve heard, are really good,” he said. “Even this year we could do something and my sophomore and junior year we should be pretty strong.”

Lenahan would certainly agree.

“This will be the recruiting class that puts NU on the soccer map,” Lenahan said. “All the players we recruited truly believe that great things are in store for NU soccer.”