Six Seniors Savor a Remarkable Soccer Journey
Oct. 31, 2014
CHICAGO - As the six Blue Demons are honored before Saturday's BIG EAST Conference showdown with No. 10/6 Creighton, they have begun to realize how challenging and rewarding their journey has been since first arriving in Lincoln Park.
Never could they have imagined what a high level of soccer they would be playing as part of the rugged BIG EAST.
Once again this season, five BIG EAST teams are ranked among the nation's Top 25. Their Senior Day opponent Creighton was ranked No. 1 at one point.
And yet, amidst all the highs and lows of a Division I soccer program and all the adversity you learn to overcome, one constant remained.
They were always there for each other.
"Many of the teams we play push us to our mental and physical limits, especially in the BIG EAST," said Daniel Michallik. "As a DePaul soccer player, you're disciplined from day one to adopt a blue-collar attitude. Whether it's in training, games, in the classroom or the community, we must come to terms with the fact that we represent DePaul and honor the logo.
"Sheer physicality seems to be the standard in college soccer these days. You must impose yourself physically. If you're not 100% physically and mentally up for the challenge, you will suffer the consequences.
"Soccer, like most other sports, has its ebbs and flows---and we've felt the full force over the years. Results haven't gone our way, but we've always tried to keep our feet on the ground. There is a uniform level of respect among the seniors, and we all can count on one another."
Because of an injury, Art Garza received an extra year of eligibility and made the most of his extra time.
"It's hard to imagine my college experience at any other university," said Garza, a team captain. "Over the past four and a half years, I have been challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I'm now a better man because of it. The skills I have learned go much farther than the soccer field. I will use my accumulated experiences as I enter a new stage of my life.
"One of my favorite memories was beating nationally ranked Marquette on Senior Day last year because I was able to compete with my classmates and best friends for their final collegiate game. We were the first people we had met at DePaul, so obviously we had a special bond. From that game, you could see how much we matured from our freshman year and how close we were.
"And then you could see how hard the younger guys played once they came in. They were so hungry for that win---it was evident this was much more than just another game for us. I have never been a part of a group effort like that before. It was unbelievable."
It will take a similar effort on Saturday to prevail over a Creighton powerhouse that is outscoring teams 24-8 thanks to a dominant 110-48 advantage in shots on goal.
The Bluejays have won or tied eight of their last nine games behind Fabian Herbers (eight goals, five assists), Timo Pitter (six goals, five assists) and outstanding goalkeeper Connor Sparrow (0.49 GAA, nine shutouts).
"The seniors and captains have really stepped up this year," said Curtis Weir. "There is a heightened sense of leadership that has been missing in the past. As a result, our team is more disciplined and everyone is on the same page. Training sessions have been much more competitive. The team looks promising in years to come if this leadership quality continues.
"On the field, I feel that Jake Douglas has made the largest contribution to the team. His consistency level is very high, which is an important quality to have in the back line. We have a chance to finish up strong if he continues to perform in these final two games."
Douglas knows the impact he and his classmates have on the Blue Demons.
"This senior class has helped to solidify the platform for the younger up-and-coming guys to really take off with the program," Douglas said. "We have helped create a culture that is hard-working and not complacent.
"I am realizing that this journey I have undertaken with all of these guys has been one unbelievable ride, and I couldn't have asked for any better teammates or individuals to have shared this experience with."
Speaking of unbelievable rides, how about Koray Yesilli traveling all the way to Lincoln Park from Germany to experience the best of DePaul soccer?
"Being in another country and culture gave me another view on things and certainly provided me a with a memorable experience," said Yesilli, a stalwart defender and team captain who suffered a season-ending injury in the seventh game. "It is always a challenge to adapt to a new environment, new people and a new culture.
"I think the start with my team was a little difficult because I was one of the oldest in players and my English in the beginning was not that good. Right away, the coaches saw my leadership potential which some of my teammates probably didn't understand until I started to play. What really helped was time to come together. I tried to stay as open-minded as possible and after three weeks, I was completely integrated into the team.
"It is really hard to watch a game and not be able to help. This feeling of being helpless is terrible. I try to have an influence with talking to the guys, but even that is sometimes difficult because I would rather play and be an example on the field."
Nevertheless, his dad Hayrettin Yesilli and mom Gülay Yesilli came all the way from Berlin to watch their son be honored on Saturday.
"DePaul is a great university and the athletic center has an unbelievable family atmosphere that made my transition from Germany to Lincoln Park a lot easier," Yesilli said. "With all the support you get as a student-athlete, I think DePaul was absolutely the best place for me to further my college education.
"My favorite moment was my game-winning goal against Marquette last year. To score the last goal of the season that beat the eventual BIG EAST champion felt so good. I am sure I would have had more goals and big moments this season if I had not gotten injured."
Bermuda's Anthony Hunter also came a long way to play for Blue Demon coach Craig Blazer.
"Through my experiences at DePaul, I learned how to go grow up and tackle life head-on," said the senior nicknamed `Hunty.' "It taught me how to face challenges and how to deal with adversity. DePaul taught me how to fight and work harder than I ever have for what I want.
"DePaul has made me a better student with the help of Triple-A (Athletics Academic Advising), and I always had great advice within the academic side of my journey. Being on the team four years molded me into a better person because of the experiences I encountered and the people I got to meet from various walks of life.
"My favorite memory was when we went to the BIG EAST tournament my freshman year when we beat Syracuse 2-1 and I scored the winning goal. The seniors this year helped blend all the other classes together, and we created lot of laughs!"
Weir, who was born and raised in Connecticut, will never forget a very special match in 2011.
"My favorite memory was definitely playing against UConn my freshman year," Weir said. "I watched UConn soccer all the time growing up, so it was amazing having the opportunity to play at Morrone Stadium. The atmosphere was like nothing I have experienced before with the thousands of fans cheering.
"I was also lucky enough to be playing against my older brother, Sean, who was a senior at the time. Even though we lost the game, that was my favorite day in this soccer program, and that memory will stick with me forever."
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