Wabash Ends Season 11-6-2 (4-3-2 NCAC), Looks Forward to Future

Austin Hughes ‘23 watches as the team passes into the opposing squad’s box. Hughes continues to improve each season he has played for the Little Giants and will be one of several seniors who head next year’s squad.

Austin Hughes ’23 is a junior midfielder from Clarksville, IN. Hughes has played 16 games for Wabash this season, scoring four goals and getting four assists on the year. I sat down with him to discuss the season and his personal goals for the team going forward.

Q: What expectations did you have for the team at the beginning of the season?

A: Honestly, I thought this was going to be the year. My freshman year we were a very young team and lots of guys in my class started a lot of games. Two years later, we still have them all: Cristian Aleman [‘22], Adam Berg [‘22], Josh Scott [‘22], and me. So, I knew we were going to be an older and more experienced team this year. And certainly for those first few weeks of the season there was a feeling that things really clicked into place. Everybody found their role, we were older, and it felt right. So, the expectation was to win the conference, and I really thought it was doable.

Q: As you say, something really clicked in the non-conference portion of the season. So, what happened when the conference games began?

A: Look, I believe there’s two aspects that determine a full season when you look at the big picture. First, you need the talent and the will to win, and that’s what we had. But then you need the in-season management and the depth to manage yourself for a full season. In the non-conference schedule, we were just pure soccer players. Everyone was healthy, everyone was happy. Life was good outside of soccer, too, and it showed on the field. That was just pure talent. But then you need good in-season management too. Guys are going to pick up injuries as the season wears on and when those inevitabilities come it swamps some guys. When those things happen, you need the depth and the wits about you to manage those challenges to keep it rolling. I think some of those things hit us harder than we should have let them, and so the gears just shifted back a little bit.

Q: Looking forward, then, what groundwork would you like to lay to improve that full season management you were talking about?

A: I take a lot of that responsibility myself. We’re going to have to look, as we do every season, at our little in-season habits, the little nuances. For instance, are we using our time and practice effectively? How are we structuring our time management? Then, when that process comes around again, we can say okay, let’s tweak some things that didn’t work. That is why this spring is going to be massive for the team. We have plans already in place for everything from new nutrition plans to weightlifting programs. It’s no secret that we’re not the biggest team physically, but we have good guys with good chemistry. If we can spend more time with each other, building those friendships a little deeper, that’s definitely going to help down the line.

Q: How important is that good chemistry for the future success of the team?

A: The importance of chemistry is one of the most interesting things about soccer. It’s what I love about it, and it’s why soccer is so hard to understand. It’s a game of improvisation, and that’s different from a lot of American sports. It’s not coordinated, the coach doesn’t run the game. It’s us eleven guys who go out there and improvise our way to a win.

Q: Do you see any future leaders emerging from the sophomore or junior classes?

A: As a newbie on the team, your job really is just to adapt and do your thing. If your thing is good enough to help the team, Coach will play you and the evolution of the team will keep going. The big three sophomores that really came up this year I think were Jerry Little [‘24], Hugo Garcia [‘24], and Jackson Grabill [‘24]. As for freshmen, Bruno Zamora [‘25] and Emilio Paez [‘25] got a lot of playing time. I love the way all of these guys play, especially Bruno, he’s a lot of fun to watch.

Q: What, then, do you want to see as you head into your final year with the team?

A: I want what every senior wants and everything I’ve ever played for. We have a chance to make history next year if we can win the NCAC and make the NCAA tournament. No Wabash team has ever done it, and that goal is not going to change. I want to play soccer and I want to help make a name for the team. I believe it can happen.