By Chris Mackowiak
It was different seeing a head coach other than Dr. Gerry DiBartolo grace the men’s soccer sidelines in the 2016 season. If there was one man with maroon and gold flowing through their veins ready for the job, it was current SU men’s soccer head coach Alex Hargrove.
Now after his first season on the job, Hargrove looks towards a 2017 campaign where Salisbury hopes to improve greatly from a 2016 season that dropped the Sea Gulls to their lowest win total (nine) since 1990. Just like any sport, that first season allows a new head coach to evaluate where things are at alongside how to make a program ‘their own.’
In 2017 with a 10-player talented senior class vacating the roster, there is essentially a clean slate which Hargrove can work from to instill new lessons in his players and bring in players that fit the mold he desires for his program.
“There are lessons to be learned from any season, but as time goes on there’s some major lessons from that first season. It’s about making sure these guys are out here in a competitive environment and enjoying the training sessions every day that way when they step on the field for Wednesdays and Saturdays they’re ready to compete against anyone in the country,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove notes that changes have occurred within the team’s training environment which the team has responded well to. The hope is that these new techniques in his second season will bring about the classic SU soccer culture which was prevalent when Salisbury last won the conference title in 2015.
When standing on the sidelines, fans will notice Hargrove’s emphatic attitude, engaging the players in all they do. One day at practice, he could be found doing pushups with the goalkeepers and goalkeeping coach Paul Zimmerman. Some of his key starting players notice the positive attitude too and feel the energy that their head coach brings each day.
SU right back Nick Carrington sees Hargrove’s great morale on the pitch during practices.
“The intensity of practice has been a lot higher, and everyone’s been a lot more competitive. There’s been a lot more positivity around the field. It’s been just awesome to play for him,” Carrington said, adding that Hargrove might be his favorite coach to ever play for.
For all-conference freshman midfielder Dolph Hegewisch, that energy fosters greater trust across the team.
“He’s built trust between myself and the team. He brings a positive attitude every day to practice. The energy is just there every single practice, even in the preseason,” Hegewisch said.
While Hargrove continues to learn on-the-job in pursuit of a Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) title this season, the 2009 Salisbury University graduate now has received the opportunity to gain more valuable insight for his position.
The United Soccer Coaches announced Hargrove as part of their newest class in their 30 Under 30 Program, which provides young soccer coaches with an educational scholarship and mentorship opportunity to advance their coaching experience. Hargrove was one of 15 male coaches selected among a pool of 300 applicants.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity that the United Soccer Coaches Program has offered. I was fortunate to be in that list of over 300 applicants. It’s an opportunity for me to grow as a coach, to help this program and to help the local youth soccer community I work with as well as at the Maryland state level as well,” Hargrove said.
The former all-conference midfielder is now paired with a mentor with much experience in NCAA Division III and U.S. Soccer. This opportunity will aid in creating the culture for the SU men’s soccer program under Hargrove.
With those lessons he learned from his playing days at SU, his first year as an SU head coach, and his new opportunities, Hargrove continues to foster a competitive, intense and energetic atmosphere for his players to thrive in. Senior forward Brooks Zentgraf is another player that sees this through the preseason.
“He brings out the best in every player. He has practice as very intense, kind of like games. He has everyone compete. Nothing is guaranteed on this team, so you have to work your butt off,” Zentgraf said.
The Sea Gulls host both Capital University and Gettysburg College Friday and Saturday respectively to open the 2017 campaign as part of the Elmer Lord Soccer Classic.