Oct. 19, 2017
CHICAGO – First it was Quentin Low in 2013. A year later, five young men also made the move to Lincoln Park. In 2016, Stijn van der Slot joined the group and took on the endeavor of being a Blue Demon. Some came from near and some came from far, but together they became one. As their time comes to an end, this group of incredible men are preparing for their Senior Day when they will step on to the field for one of their last moments as DePaul men’s soccer players.
Hans Wustling was a crucial addition to the Blue Demons coming all the way from Hamburg, Germany. After his freshman year, he was named to the 2014 BIG EAST All-Rookie Team. However, his transition wasn’t all fun and games.
“Coming here was a big adjustment,” said Wustling. “I didn’t know anyone here. I was coming to a new city, and I hadn’t been to the United States before. Coming to this team was amazing just because of all the seniors, juniors, and sophomores who were already here. They helped me out; they wanted me to feel welcome. They made me feel at home right away, and they became my family because my family was back in Germany. There are 24 guys who can trust each other, and it has been a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.”
The team recalls how Wustling came into the program not knowing what a weight room was.
Fellow senior Quentin Low said, “When Hans came in, he wasn’t very muscular. Over the next four years, I swear Hans has done bicep curls every single day of the week and because of it he has the biggest arm now.”
The slow process paid off but van der Slot recalls his experience in his first time in DePaul’s weight room inside the Sullivan Athletics Center.
“When I arrived to DePaul, I found out everyone was working on their fitness,” said van der Slot. “I had never done that before. On our first day of working out, I was about 30 minutes in still trying to get the hang of it. I was sitting down and all I could think about was that I had to puke. I was sitting there for five minutes and working on my breathing and drinking protein shakes. After a while, I ran out of the weight room into the bathroom and I opened the door to find Kosta [Brkovic] also suffering as well and that felt relief because that guy had been there for three years already, and he was struggling as well.”
Brkovic came from Glenview, Ill., and was prepared to make a big impact for the team early on. After a few injuries, his role changed from the field to the sidelines where he had to learn to be the main motivation.
“My time here hasn’t always been easy. It has been filled with different injuries and sicknesses and stuff that really hasn’t allowed me to play as much as I wanted to or contribute how I thought I would,” said Brkovic. “Nevertheless, I am still eternally grateful for my four years here just because of the guys I met. It is unbelievable, and I know I have a band of brothers I can count on for the rest of my life. It gave me an opportunity to live with and play with some of the older guys and younger guys. That is something you can’t replace and something I never want to replace or forget. Even though it has been hard at times, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
“My contribution to the team now hounding the guys in practice and getting them going. Overall, I just bring in more of a positive attitude. I know sometime things can get negative with training, but overall, just try to bring a positive vibe,” said Brkovic.
Caleb Pothast, a two-year captain and standout defender for the Blue Demons, understands that without his team, he would be nothing. After being surrounded by soccer for most of his life, he has the game in his blood.
“Austin Harrell can be remembered as a madman,” said Pothast. “The amount of times our coaching staff said this guy is a madman is unbelievable. If ten years from now, people see his name and remember him as a madman, my life will be complete.”
In regards to Pothast himself, he hopes to be remembered as the group of men that started change.
“DePaul was in a slump for a while, and our class and the senior class before us were the building blocks of what could come and the foundation of what could come,” said Pothast. “Simon [Megally]’s class did a great job of it, and our class is carrying it on. To be remembered as the class that helped turned this program around and get them to the top priority BIG EAST team that people are afraid today is something that I wish every single time I am on the field.”
Pothast has led the team to many victories throughout his career. As a freshman, he started in all 17 matches and kept this streak going. He was the team’s top defender as a sophomore and is a three-time member of the BIG EAST All-Academic Team.
“I came in young and naïve and the class before us really taught me to get through that and that is something I want to pass onto the younger guys too. Whether it be the current freshman or someone like Max de Bruijne, who could be one of the best defenders in the NCAA, I want to pass on that leadership role in a way that Simon and Eric [Rodriguez] did to myself. That is something I want to leave behind too.”
Philipp Konigstein has had a tremendous season to top off a great career. As a junior, he was third on the team in goals and points. At the beginning of his senior season, Konigstein led DePaul’s offensive effort tallying 14 points via six goals and two assists. He remains a leading scorer for the Blue Demons.
“I want to be remembered as the best free kick taker that DePaul has ever had,” said Konigstein. “But more importantly, I want to be remembered as the class of seniors that made the BIG EAST tournament three years in a row and possibly go even further. And that is where all of our focus is right now.”
Low’s story is a bit different. As a fifth-year senior, Low has experience that no other guy on the team has. He watches the games from the goalkeeper box and sacrifices his body in order to be able to make those great saves. While the team’s focus is on the other goal, Low has a backseat to the flow of the match and the intricate details of the game.
“My experience has been a little bit longer than everyone else’s, and I am super grateful to be a fifth year. I learned a lot from the senior class of 2013 and what they brought to this program because of what they contributed. I learned a lot about their leadership and what worked and what didn’t. I want to be remembered as someone who always did more to push the program further and further, and I am super grateful for those guys and what they taught me,” said Low.
Low remembers his collegiate debut in 2013 very well.
“I think my most impactful moment was my freshman year when I was the third string goalkeeper. It was senior day, and we were playing No. 10 Marquette. Eric Sorby was a fifth-year goalkeeper at the time and he broke his finger in the eighth minute of the match. A few days before that, Phillip Huang got a concussion in training. For the last game of the season, I am the backup goalkeeper, and I got subbed on. I was standing at midfield, and they stopped the clock. Koray Yesilli, who was the captain at the time, ran all the way from the south end of the field to midfield by me to give me a high five and a hug to tell me ‘You got this.’ It was a really powerful moment for me. It ended up being our only BIG EAST win that season.”
This team is more than just a soccer dynamite. Off the field, they come from different backgrounds that bring together a melting pot of personalities.
Pothast remembers back to his freshman year when the guys first met each other.
“Freshmen year when we all first met each other, we used to have a guy on our team named Marcus Griggs. Hans and Marcus lived together freshmen year in U-Hall. Marcus is probably the most sarcastic guy you’ll ever met, basically the clown. Hans came in straight from Germany. He was straight-faced, stone cold, and did not want to joke about anything. I was scared to talk to him because I didn’t know what to say. I just felt like he was mad at me. The way Marcus and Hans got along transformed him completely. Now, Hans is a sarcastic and a funny guy. It is crazy to see how much that he has changed and how he has become the funny guy.”
Pothast also calls out fellow teammate and midfielder Austin Harrell who has made a lot of moves on the field. Off the field, Harrell has made a lot of moves as well.
“Austin loves to sing and dance,” said Pothast. “I have had so many memories of this kid throwing down to throwback music, especially with ACDC being one of his favorite bands. Whether it be in U-Hall or in our apartment, him just singing out and dancing will be one of my favorite memories ever.”
And if you’ve ever seen a soccer player ride a bike through the Sullivan Athletics Center, you can thank Stijn van der Slot for that.
Throughout their time as Blue Demons, this group of men have made a tremendous impact that has prepared the team for future generations.
Brkovic said, “We have really been the building blocks for the rest of the classes that have come here recently. I think we have built the foundation of what can really be seen on the field as an elevation of play and garnering more respect for the program.”
Wustling piggybacked on that saying, “We improved the program year to year, and it was nice to see the program elevate. It feels good.”
Last year as juniors, the team was one step away from going to the NCAA tournament. They have fought endless amounts of battles, both on and off the field to get to where they are today.
Pothast said, “There are so many games I could point out as being amazing. But last year when we beat Georgetown on the road, that was one of the biggest games. It just told us that we were in it, we were that good, and we could compete with anyone. For me, my brother was also able to come to that game. He moved to Washington D.C. for work and for him to be able to be there after he used to play for Marquette was really cool.”
“I also have to shout out the game against Butler,” continued Pothast. “There was five seconds left, Stijn hit a free kick to Zach [El-Shafei] came out nowhere and nailed it into the net. Everyone sprinted to the corner and dogpiled on top of him in the corner of the field. That was another stand out game for me. Then you have Simon [Megally] jumping over the whole pile and belly-flopping on that blue thing [high jump landing pad] in the corner of field. That was funny too.”
Low recalls a memory that will stick with him and his teammates forever.
“Stijn scored in overtime and that just so happened to be the first game and time that his parents flew in to the United States from the Netherlands to watch him play. He scored and his parents were up in the stands, and all-of-a-sudden he starts running straight to where the opposing fans were sitting. We were playing on the road so the rest of the fans were wondering ‘what in the heck is this guy doing’ and then suddenly, these two Dutch people are running down the bleachers and Stijn jumps up into the stands and hugs them all.”
Brkovic said, “The Villanova game when we came back from two goals down and beat them 3-2 and had another dog pile was a great memory. The Marquette game when we thrashed them 3-0 our sophomore season was another great memory. That moment was so great because they beat us freshmen year 4-0 and Caleb was all mad because his family was dogging on him at Thanksgiving. Caleb’s brother played for Marquette and giving him the opportunity to final ‘get one over’ his brother was priceless. So, for us to come back and whoop them was incredible.”
Harrell, from Mason, Ohio, remembers back two years ago to a game against Villanova.
“Our sophomore year, that Villanova game, we were 1-10 on the season at the time. It was the turning point in our season, and I see it as the turning point in our program as well. Since that moment, we have been killing it in the BIG EAST and have made it to the tournament two, and hopefully three, years in a row. I see that as the time that turned it around for us.”
This turning point came to the Blue Demons after a lot of hard work and perseverance. For the efforts behind the madness, these young men thank their coaches.
Van der Slot said, “For me, meeting the coaching staff was a weird experience. I remember sitting in the car with my dad and driving to a hotel lobby. We didn’t know what to expect. Then there was Coach [Craig] Reynolds with his characteristic face, and we were like ‘Who is this guy?’ But that was really nice. Then I flew to Chicago last minute, and he showed me around the city. He showed me the skyline and everything for the first time. I feel like I have a special relationship with me because I lived with his son last year and I went to his house for Thanksgiving. I feel like he helped me feel at home here and I am really thankful for that.”
Wustling, coming from Germany, has a similar experience.
“Coming from Germany was really hard in the beginning. It was hard to adapt to the different style of coaching and playing. But at the end of the day, I am thankful Coach [Craig] Blazer recruited me from Germany and that I was able to play soccer and study at the same time. I am very thankful.”
On a recent trip home from Seton Hall, Konigstein found himself flipping through old pictures on his phone which led him to realize the impact Coach Blazer had on him.
“When we came back from Seton Hall, I ran out of data on my phone so I didn’t have anything else to do except go through old photos. I found a photo of me speaking to Coach Blazer for the first time. It reminded me of how it all started. I didn’t plan on coming here until about four months before I came. I am really grateful for Coach Blazer to have given me the opportunity to come here. Ever since then, our relationship had ups and downs. We have argued a lot; we have made jokes a lot. It has been good and bad times. But overall, he developed me as a character. They helped me mature and that is the thing I am most grateful for. They basically raised me from my 19th year of life on because I was away from my family. It hasn’t always been picture perfect, but it has been a great memory that will last forever.”
Low has had a great experience with the Blue Demon coaching staff but he gives a thank you to someone who motivates him on a personal level.
“Aidan [Reynolds] is helping with the coaching staff this year and him and I have always gotten along. With us being the same age, we still have a really good relationship on and off the field. His dad, Coach Reynolds, I call him an old wise man because he just quotes all these old people things.”
After four wonderful years, Pothast finds himself becoming more and more like DePaul coaching staff every day.
“They always have these one-liners. I always joke around when I am with my teammates that it is crazy how much of an impact that it has on our lives because we pull those one-liners out on one another or random people who didn’t even know the context behind it. I am always like ‘Why did I just say that?’ but it is engrained in my head now. We don’t even think about it, but we are quoting Coach Blazer without even knowing.”
These memories and experiences will stick with these seven young men forever. On Saturday, the Blue Demons will take on St. John’s for Senior Day in one of their final home matches of their careers.
With parents, friends, and family coming from the Netherlands, Germany, and throughout the United States to Chicago, this game will be unforgettable for so many reasons.
Thank you, seniors. You will be missed.