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Men’s soccer finishes action-packed season on Saturday evening

Written by: Liberty Miller | Lifestyle Editor

Western’s men’s soccer team has made waves in the Great Northwest Athletic  Conference in only their second established season, as talented head coach Michael Behonick, and a star-studded roster, battled their way to recognition. 

In their debut season in 2022, the team faced a tough conference record of one win, ten losses and one tie. At this time, another coach was heading the team. Now, in their second season ever, this team boasts a conference record of eight wins, one loss and three ties — just barely coming up short of a GNAC conference title, trailing Simon Fraser by 0.02%. 

The Howl had the privilege of holding a press conference for the coach and players of the men’s soccer team, where we discussed this drastic change in team culture and philosophy. 

The critical turning point for the team was the hiring of Michael Behonick, a 14-year National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 veteran, having coached for Penn State, University of Pittsburgh and University of Virginia, as well as USA national and paralympic soccer teams. 

Prior to coaching, Coach Behonick played in Major League Soccer and had a successful career at University of Southern California. 

Prompting Coach Behonick with a question about a nail-biter game against Western Washington, and asking what the key is to the team’s perseverance and grit, he stated, “It’s what I preach every day, it’s how you do things every day, how you play, how you practice, right? It’s a never give up attitude for our guys, really fighting to the final whistle, we train the way we play.”

Evidently, the team seems to be benefiting from this mindset as they showed up this past Saturday and won the final conference battle against Seattle Pacific. 

When asked about how he will continue to run a successful and productive program in the future, Coach Behonick answered, “It’s just building a culture and doing the right things each and every day, whether it’s on the field or off the field, my expectations for these guys is I want to run a championship program, right? I want to run a championship program that makes sure that we continue to evolve on the soccer field (as) they continue to evolve as people off the soccer field. Because the ball really leaves us before we want it to, and there’s so much more in life that we’re trying to teach each and every one of these guys along with making sure we’re successful on the field.” 

The players, similarly, talk about the culture of the team and how it has changed since the previous year. 

When senior Juan Suarez was asked about team, coach and player dynamics, he stated, “It’s been great, I wouldn’t change it for the world, to be honest.” 

Alex Grignon provided some valuable insight into the specifics of Coach Behonick’s coaching style, saying, “Going into games, it’s kind of drawn out for you. Michael’s really detailed, and he provides us with a really really detailed scout, so it’s kind of hard not to know what to do, and I think that provides us with a lot of success.” 

Abraham Villalobos chimed in, saying that, “Michael and his staff give us a very good scouting report on every game, and every practice we have, you know, everyone’s giving one hundred percent.” He continues to say that regardless of going up against pre-established powerhouse teams, “…in the game, just going into action, I mean, we all love the pressure, we all love touching the ball around, — we’re all together as a team.”

Concerning last year, both Villalobos and Gringnon were present for the spring season prior to Coach Behonick’s arrival. Grignon described Behonick’s arrival as “a breath of fresh air,” and that, “He’s completely transformed the program and allowed us to be optimistic about, you know, playing games and competing for titles, and that’s something that, if you told me that a year ago, I would have told you that you were crazy… Every coach picked us to finish last this year, and now we’re competing for the title, so I think that kind of just proves it, in itself. The motivation, it’s inside of you at all times.” 

Perhaps a testament to the coach’s strict lifestyle policy leading to their success would be dubbed the infamous “Burger King Incident” by player Gabriel Silva. In a reminiscent, sad recollection of the event, Gabriel Silva describes how the players bought Burger King post-game, and that their burgers were swiftly confiscated and disposed of by none other than Coach Behonick himself. 

While that story was the chink in the armor of my otherwise professional demeanor, it was very clear the players thought back fondly on the situation. Baseline respect between coaches and players could very well have been a foundational key to success. 

All in all, the coach and players attribute their success this year to adherence to lifestyle changes, bonding with each other over a mutual want to succeed and win games, and respect for their coach, as well as Coach Behonick’s detailed scouting reports, minute-detail game plans for each of the players and in-depth understanding of the game. I’m looking forward to seeing what next year holds for the program. 

The full 24-minute press conference with the men’s soccer team can be streamed on WOUtv, as well as on the WOUWolves YouTube page. 

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