Rasmus Smidtslund scans the field in a match against Eastern Illinois on February 3rd. Photo by Josh Schwam, Bradley Athletics.
Bradley Braves’ football team is swapping the freezing end of the season in November for a freezing start of the season in February to launch the 2021 campaign.
After 15 months without a competitive game, the Braves will start their shortened season young and inexperienced.
Valparaiso’s abolition of the men’s soccer program means the Missouri Valley Conference only has five schools that use men’s soccer teams. Combine that with a non-conference game and the Braves will only hit the court nine times before the Valley tournament in April.
With only eight high school students, the young team will turn to veterans such as doctoral students and preseason all-conference Gerit Wintermeyer.
“It requires a lot of communication on and off the field,” said Wintermeyer. “There are a lot of new things to learn on the field… We really play a different kind of football than they are used to… We play ‘win football’, not necessarily good looking football… it’s a mentality these guys need to understand. ”
The newcomers only returned to four of the regular starters in the 2019 squad this season, battling teammates for a starting position.
“It was just as competitive [of] a preseason for starting positions as [it’s] It’s been a long time, ”said head coach Jim DeRose. “That’s what we’re really excited about … It’s young and inexperienced, but it’s competitive.”
DeRose also hopes to capitalize on this lack of experience by using it as an opportunity to retool some of its players into new positions. For example, he plans to bring Rasmus Smidtslund into midfield in the sophomore year instead of defending himself.
According to him, it’s this versatility that will make up for their young squad again this season.
“We’re a more athletic and faster team than we were because of some newcomers,” said DeRose. “We have really great versatility with guys who can play in multiple positions. We’ll be able to push higher up the field as a defensive team and I think we’ll be able to generate more sales.” in the attacking half. “
Picked fourth in preseason polls, the Braves opened their season with a 3-2 win over Eastern Illinois for their only Division I matchup outside of conference on Wednesday. This leaves little time to work before playing the conference’s two best preseason picks, Missouri State on February 14th and Loyola on February 20th.
Off-season it was difficult for the team to go off-season after just playing scrimmage games. It’s a challenge DeRose hasn’t addressed in his 20+ years as head coach.
“I dont know [what we need to work on]”Said DeRose.” Never in my 25 years have I had to use real games to learn and figure things out with the team … We are going to need a game or two or three just to have tape to do things work.”
Looking to the future, Redshirt junior Jack Dunn believes that the upper class can help instill a sense of direction.
“It’s easy; it’s leadership,” said Dunn. “It makes sure they know their roles and lead them from the front.”
This shortened season leaves the Braves with little margin for error in their 10 games. DeRose believes adaptability will be key for April’s conference tournament.
“I’m really trying to get their playing strengths to the positions on the field that we think will have the best effect,” said DeRose. “If we’re short somewhere, maybe we can fill these roles with versatility and flexibility. Maybe we can play a few guys there as the game progresses. “
After so much uncertainty about his game status this season, Wintermeyer is simply looking forward to coming back on the field as a Brave for one last season.
“It’s a different component when the lights come on,” said Wintermeyer. “It’s 7 p.m. and everything is on the line … [I’m] really happy because [I] another semester of football was granted. “