Goalkeeper Chris Piekos is not your average senior. You only need to look at his age – 26 years old – to figure that out.
To put that in perspective, when the keeper graduated high school, midfielder Stuart Amick – also a senior – just graduated junior high.
While he is significantly older than any of his teammates, Piekos isn’t playing for the Massachusetts men’s soccer team at his age because of academic problems, but because of his willingness to serve for his country.
After his freshman year at Rivier College, Piekos served two deployments over four years in Iraq and received a Bronze Star. Needless to say, his background is a little off the beaten trail for a soccer player.
Despite his age and background, Piekos had to deal with a competition against redshirt junior Shane Curran-Hays who is a bit longer and quicker than Piekos, but doesn’t have the strength of the current starting keeper.
Curran-Hays earned his right to the starting job after sitting behind Zack Simmons for two years as his former teammate led the Minutemen to two NCAA tournament appearances. Curran-Hays quickly learned that his apprenticeship would be challenged by Piekos all year, and UMass coach Sam Koch alternated between both keepers for all of last year and the first part of the 2010 campaign.
Piekos earned the job for good on Sept. 19 when the Minutemen played then-No. 24 Indiana. The senior finished out the non-conference schedule with a disappointing 0-2-3 record while allowing eight goals.
The situation seemed eerily familiar to last season when UMass started the season with three ties throughout the non-conference schedule. The Minutemen eventually fell out of contention for the Atlantic 10 tournament.
This time, it looks like Koch is not going to have to deal with the disappointment of last season. Ever since the start of A-10 play, UMass is 4-0-1. During that stretch, Piekos has only allowed one goal.
Now, he looks poised to lead the Minutemen back to the A-10 tournament, and his teammates can thank his maturity for the solid leadership and defense they’ve been receiving during the second part of the season.
Ever since Piekos put on the Maroon and White, he has been a leader – even when he wasn’t the one in goal. Last season, he posted a 0.68 goals-against average and a save percentage of .868 – good for seventh in the nation.
Despite his accomplishments, Koch rotated his two keepers all season. Piekos never complained once about his role with the team and even cheered on Curran-Hays from the bench during half the season.
Ever since the job permanently went to Piekos, his teammates are feeding off his maturity. In Oct. 16’s 1-0 win over Rhode Island, freshman Chris Stoker kicked the game-winning kick late in the game.
That day, Piekos kept the Rams out of the goal with an extended-arm save off a shot by URI senior Greg Balicki to keep the score tied early in the first half.
Last season, the Minutemen not only struggled to keep other teams out of the goal, but also struggled to produce offense themselves.
While they still aren’t going to win games on their offense, they are still making sure to get on the board every game. Unlike last year, where UMass was shut out seven times during the season, it has decreased that number to two.
No, I’m not suggesting that the Minutemen’s success is solely related to Piekos, but having someone with his maturity level at his age is very beneficial for the Minutemen. As far as Piekos is concerned, if he can handle defending his country, he can do the same with his own net.
Adam Miller is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.