"Senior Night" is approaching next week and it is always a very difficult time for me and our coaching staff. That evening, you begin to realize that the college soccer careers of four members of our "family" are nearing an end.
Student-athletes that you have seen mature as students and develop as athletes over the last four years. Guys that you have hugged, disagreed with on certain matters, and laughed uncontrollably with... There is a wide range of emotions and shared experiences that run through my mind on Senior Night. This year, we have four truly special people that are going to be missed by our program and our University.
Cruz Hernandez has shown tremendous growth both on and off the field while at UConn. We has developed into a warm, caring person, who is a very good player. Cruz has really matured at UConn and has become a real integral piece of the fabric of our team. Cruz has impacted our team significantly. He scored a great goal against Syracuse and has done a fantastic job for us. Cruz has provided great senior leadership to our group. He is an outstanding young man whose personality is electric. We have been fortunate to have Cruz in our program and we are going to miss him very much.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe, our Captain, has developed unbelievably right in front of our own eyes. Kwame is the leader of our team, the guy everyone on the team likes and respects. He is our team warrior - the backbone of our defense. He has developed into a fantastic young man. Kwame is a team-first guy and an outstanding center back. His personality and charisma have defined the chemistry of this year's team, and it wouldn't surprise me if Kwame successfully runs for a public office after his professional career is over. Kwame's presence on the pitch has been so dominating, that he will be very difficult to replace next year.
Michael Pezza came to us after four glorious years at National Soccer powerhouse St. Benedict's Prep. Rick Jacobs did a fantastic job of developing Michael as a player. He has vision, technique and tactical awareness possessed by very few American players. He is a real playmaker on the field, whose vision and technical precision often keep him two steps ahead of his opponent. His serving is as good as any player I have ever coached.
Michael is a "Big Time" player. To see the real side of Michael, you just need to watch him with our younger players, he has done a fantastic job mentoring some of his younger teammates. Mike is going to be a very good professional player, however, the real improvement in Michael has been his maturity as a person during his four years at UConn. Michael has really grown into a focused, driven young man. Pez's impact on our program, both on and off the field, will be difficult to replace.
Our final senior is Toni Stahl. Toni is an outstanding player who will be a top-level professional player. Toni has been a great addition to our program both on and off the field. Toni is one of the best midfielders in college soccer, but where we have seen real growth is his maturity and discipline as a man. During the four years here in Storrs, there has been a steady growth each year in his mentality both on and off the pitch.
Toni, because of his emotion, intensity and love of the game, has become a popular figure with the youth players in the area, and is revered by many. I have watched a young person come from Finland 3 ½ years ago and have seen him develop into a mature adult who has impacted our program significantly. Toni is a player that the fans at UConn will have a hard time forgetting.
Saying good-bye is never an easy thing and that's what makes "Senior Night" so difficult. Watching your student-athletes develop into responsible, disciplined and caring men before your very eyes makes it a little easier. We will miss each of these young men but they can be proud knowing they have made our program stronger through their commitment, hard work and dedication.