Last week, members of the men’s soccer team were showered with accolades following the 2014 season. Captain Ben Bratt ’15 and Charlie Gruner ’17 earned First-Team All-NESCAC honors, while striker Adam Cowie-Haskell ’18, who finished the season with a team-best five goals along with an assist, was named ’CAC Rookie of the Year. Cowie-Haskell was recognized by the league twice before, earning Player of the Week in Wesleyan’s opening week and again halfway through the season.
The Cardinal defense—lead by center back Bratt and goalkeeper Emmett McConnell ’15—allowed only 14 goals in 16 games played. The Birds had six shutouts and forced their opponents to just one goal in seven of its matches. In addition to upholding the integrity of a traditionally solid Wesleyan backline, Bratt notched his only goal of the season on a game-winning penalty kick in an overtime win against Hamilton.
Bratt started in all of his 62 games played but one over the course of his four years here. This season’s All-’CAC recognition was Bratt’s third ever and his second first-team pick.
Gruner, a midfielder, is also a previous first-team player from his freshman season.
“I was surprised,” Gruner said. “I didn’t score any goals [this season]. Midfielders normally are expected to score goals, especially if they get all-NESCAC, whether it’s second team or first team.”
Though he did not score any goals this year, he posted three assists and took the third-most total shots of any Cardinal, firing 22. Gruner attributed his high offensive opportunities to a shift in the team’s offensive strategy. Last season, he was more of a holding midfielder in the back. This year, he was able to make more runs forward and force opponents to guard him, opening up the pitch for other players like Cowie-Haskell to have chances on goal.
“It was definitely a different role for me this year,” Gruner said. “I was more offensive than I was last year so there was a little more on my plate. We moved to two midfielders instead of three, so there was a little more work rate required. But still I wish I had finished a couple here and there.”
He credited an exceptionally solid defense, led by Bratt, for allowing the shift in the team’s strategy to one that was more offensively-minded.
“We’re always one of the best defenses,” Gruner said. “With Bratt and Ben Toulotte [’16] returning as center backs, we felt comfortable enough to push numbers forward. At the beginning of the season we were struggling a bit with scoring, so we [had] enough confidence in them and Danny Rubenstein [’17] and whether it’s Nick Jackson [’18] or anyone else out wide, that they can hold it down.”
A lack of goals did not keep Gruner unproductive, as evidenced by his assists and consistent pressure on goal. What chances Gruner didn’t take for himself, he was able to give to other players. On three such occasions, his teammates were able to find the back of the net thanks to him.
“It’s all a team sport,” he said. “It’s not like basketball or lacrosse where you can hold the ball and isolate someone. It’s getting in spots and your teammates finding you the ball, them making good runs.”
Cowie-Haskell echoed this sentiment, attributing his personal success this year to the quality and skill of the rest of the team.
“The fact that I was playing on a good team meant I was going to get scoring chances, and I put five of those away,” Cowie-Haskell said. “Playing with good players really brings out the best in any forward. That’s exactly what happened playing with Brandon Sousa [’16] and Gruner. They really brought out the most potential in me.”
The third Cardinal to ever receive Rookie of the Year, Cowie-Haskell related his reaction to hearing the news as one of relief and pure joy.
“This year was a very down year for [first-years] altogether,” he said. “So I kind of knew that I was one of the top contenders. But once I saw that I was relieved. It’d be a great personal achievement. I was pretty ecstatic.”
In addition to his numerous individual conference recognitions throughout the season, Cowie-Haskell looked back at some of the best moments of the year. Like most of his teammates, his favorite win was against Amherst during Homecoming, in which he scored the winning goal in overtime.
“My favorite opponent to play was Hamilton,” Cowie-Haskell said. “I had a goal against them, but for some reason I really blossomed that game and was on my offensive prowess.”
When asked who his toughest opponents were, he replied after an extended pause.
“I think opponents we played early on in the season, like Bowdoin and Wheaton,” Cowie-Haskell said. “I wasn’t settled into the game, and I was easily defended by some of the bigger center backs that were on those teams.”
According to Cowie-Haskell, his preseason and opening performance against Eastern Connecticut State University (in which Wes won, 1-0, thanks to him) set the tone for how the rest of his season would go.
“I remember in preseason, it was kind of like ‘who’s going to be a starting forward,’ ‘who’s going to be the go-to guy,’” he recounted. “When I was started in a preseason scrimmage and I played really well, that was when I first got the notion that maybe I’d be a starting forward. Then when I started [against] Eastern Conn., scored, that was kind of like, ‘I’m the man.’”
Gruner attributed players’ skills and contributions as the best parts of soccer.
“It’s a player’s game,” he said. “It’s not like football or basketball where it stops and the coaches go over. The players decide it and it’s the ultimate team game. A lot of it is how skilled you are and not necessarily how athletic you are.”
Cowie-Haskell echoed that sentiment, pointing out the advantages of his position as a striker.
“It’s a beautiful game,” he said. “I think it’s a great competition of fitness, aggression, and physicality. Scoring goals is one of the most euphoric parts of my life.”
As a first year that has had great success to start his career off, Cowie-Haskell is looking forward to more euphoric goal-scoring. When asked what his hope for next season was, Cowie-Haskell had a simple, four-word response.
“Player of the year,” he said.