Building gradually. That’s what the Montclair State University men’s club soccer team has been doing over the last couple of seasons.
Over the years, the team has lacked structure, stability and ambition. However, the tides have slowly been turning.
The current president of the club, senior forward Randy Shaller, said the club has made changes for the better.
“Back when I was a freshman, the team lacked a lot of structure and a lot of organization,” Shaller said. “We did not have a coach or anyone that officially ran practices.”
Because club sports are primarily student-run, not having a coach or someone who is clearly in charge can cause some controversy.
“One of the biggest differences that the e-board and I have done was hire a coach which made a huge and drastic difference with our team because the coach is able to provide structure for the team regarding practices, drills, no bias with the lineups,” Shaller said. “The best players will play and in just every aspect, the club has improved.”
Head coach Besnik Bekteshi desires a winning culture but also wants his team to become better humans too.
“At this point, we want to win as many games as possible,” Bekteshi said. “That’s our ambition. Obviously finishing first would be great, that’s our [initial goal]. But I want these people to grow as bigger people too. I want them to learn from this experience.”
Hiring Bekteshi was key for the club’s aspirations, however, Bekteshi gives credit to the team for truly wanting to be great.
“These boys are all incredibly hard-working,” Bekteshi said. “They all want to participate and they all put in effort every time, it’s really nice. They are a nice bunch, they have good dynamics and chemistry amongst each other, and whatever happens today or any other day, I enjoy working with them.”
Some other notable differences for the club now include having their first spring season in club history and having their first ever pre-season, which was three days with a fitness test at the end. They also partnered with a local Chipotle to raise money for dues and had everyone try out again to get the most competitive team possible this fall season.
Having a spring season is something the club has always wanted to do but for some reason, the pieces never connected and it didn’t happen until the 2022 season. The spring season was only a handful of friendly matches with the Red Hawks finishing at 2-2 but, according to senior co-captain and defender Gabe Agudo, it was successful.
“Tough defeats but at the same time we were just clicking and trying new things,” Agudo said. “This was also the first season with our very first coach. But overall, I think it went very well. Having a coach and the team focused and gelling together was something I wished for since the start of my first year in 2019.”
With all of the changes to the club and with the season underway, Agudo loves where the current state of the club is and where it’s headed.
“It feels like we’re a family,” Agudo said. “We are a brotherhood that wants to succeed. We want to thrive for the best, we want to win everything this year. It’s been a pretty rough three years, the structure wasn’t built, and we needed to rebuild it. We made a castle with our team and now we’re trying to conquer it.
The team is currently undefeated with a record of 2-0-1 to start the fall season with wins over Seton Hall University and Rutgers University, and Agudo is extremely satisfied.
“We have better players, more focused players, we are now more focused with a coach,” Agudo said. “We are just gelled together now. We’re able to work together now and work in harmony.”
There is no doubt that it has been a steep climb back up to the top of the ladder and because of that climb, the Montclair State men’s soccer club is back to where it wants to be.