Freshman Stars of the Fall

College freshmen face many new changes that may be difficult to handle over the course of the first few months. The struggles range from the several aspects for self-reliance, a new environment, and keeping the body and the mind healthy. But for some students, there is an added component that makes things a little more stressful; the student athletes walk into a new realm of competition and intensity that some just cannot handle. For the freshmen of George Mason who took on this challenge this fall, the signs of struggle and difficulty were not apparent by any means. In three short months, some of the Patriots’ best athletes went from being locally known high school students to nationally known collegiate superstars; a dream that only seems to come true in fairytales turned into reality for some of the best and brightest here at Mason.

The fall sports at Mason consist of Cross Country, Men’s Soccer, Women’s Soccer, and Women’s Volleyball, and many young stars emerged in this first semester.

In the world of Men’s Soccer, and in all sports at Mason in fact, the main focus this season was the fact that the 2013-2014 season would be the inaugural season for Mason in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Analysts did not give GMU any creditability as most preseason rankings had Mason finishing in the bottom half of the conference. The Mason Men’s Soccer team proved the pessimistic critics very wrong as in their first year, the guys took home the A-10 Championship and made it to the 2nd round in the NCAA Tournament before coming up short in their 1-0 loss to New Mexico. The season, although it ended abruptly, still was history in the making for George Mason. Most people highlighted senior Alex Herrera and junior Timi Mulgrew as both contributed greatly to the team’s success scoring and assisting on a majority of the goals scored. But what people also noticed was the very surprising positive vibes that freshman goalie Steffen Kraus and freshman midfielder Zach Herstek brought to the squad.

Herstek, a 5’10” Pennsylvania native, took the role of filling in the substantial hole left by Taylor Morgan, who now plays in the MLS for Toronto FC. Playing beside experienced veterans like Herrera and Wes Sever, Herstek had a great set of mentors to help him transition into the big league; the well-balanced offense fit the speed and aggression of Herstek perfectly as he recorded 3 goals which was 3rd on the team. Along with finding the net 3 times, he also assisted on one goal and made a name for himself very quickly in the A-10 community. Zach is a great addition to the Patriot’s offense and will be a key player to watch out for in the upcoming years.

On the defensive side, goalie Steffen Kraus had a history-making season to say the least. Residing from Stuttgart, Germany, the 6-foot 3-inch defensive phenom reassured why Deutschland is known for their futbol. Kraus came into the season looking to attest the negative prediction giving to the team by being a solid defensive anchor, and he did more than he even expected. Kraus posted a 12-3-6 record leading his team to a conference championship. Only one word comes to mind when thinking about the impressive Mason goalie: clutch. Kraus recorded an A-10 leading 71% save percentage, 9 shutouts, and 16 goals allowed, the fewest out of all A-10 opponents. Along with the impressive A-10 accomplishments Kraus achieved, he also was selected to the All-Region 2nd Team. When you have a freshman goalie who can provide the defense needed to make the 2nd round of the National playoffs, your upcoming seasons look very bright, and for Mason’s Men’s Soccer, things are looking that way as the A-10 Rookie of the Year returns for 3 more seasons.

The Women’s Soccer team had the season they expected to have. With only 4 seniors on the team, the lack of leadership showed at some times which contributed to the final record of 7-11-1. Quite like the men’s team, the same names popped up in conversation: Emma Starr and Liz Hodges were the obvious leaders of the squad as they recorded almost half the team’s goals, but other young stars emerged towards the end of the season. Even their efforts may have come too late, as the ladies lost to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 Quarterfinals, the defense of Sarah Hardison and the offensive threat of Brenna Connell will be great additions to the team’s every day roster next year.

Hardison, who was recognized as a defensive all-star in the A-10, showed every bit of her talent during the entire game. While there are no defensive stats to prove how reliable Hardison was on the field, her efforts took an immense amount of stress off of senior goalie Lyndsey Hokanson’s shoulders to say the least. While watching a women’s game at Patriot Stadium, Hardison not only stuck out from her neon yellow green cleats and 6-foot stature, but her defensive dominance also set her apart from the rest of the backfield. There is no doubt in the mind of anyone who follows the Lady Patriots that Hardison will be a very valuable addition to the team in the upcoming years.

On the offensive side of the field, Brenna Connell made a name for herself among the rest of the freshmen. Connell was the only freshman to record a goal this year; along with her scoring ability, Connell tied with Jazmin Cardoso for the team-high 4 assists. A clear threat in the midfield/forward position, Connell adds another fresh component to the Lady Patriots’ offense.

Finally, we transition from the turf to the hardwood. The women’s volleyball team had a season full of ups and downs; the ladies finished their inaugural A-10 with a 7-21 record, but while their record showed signs of struggle, the Patriots found a future star on the front line. Jessie Greenslade, a 6 foot, outside hitter from Millersville, Pennsylvania proved to not only her coach and teammates, but also the entire Mason Nation why she is a force to be reckoned with. The freshman was third on the team in kills, second in kills per set, and second in aces. Stats, however, do not do Greenslade justice. Inexperience was not apparent as Greenslade hopped on the court; the young star looked like a veteran and more importantly, a floor general. Even though she had only practiced with her teammates for a short amount of time, Greenslade’s awareness of every girl’s strengths and weaknesses made her a young leader. Her poise and power will be very valuable to the program’s future.

These young stars will look to not only contribute to their team’s success in the future, but serve as role models to the new incoming freshman in the fall of 2014. As we transition to winter and spring sports here at Mason, we will continue to keep a lookout for bright, young talent of the playing fields.

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