The theme of the 2018 men's soccer season for South Dakota School of Mines could be described as: "Brawn over Brains."
Sunday in its season opener against Morningside College, that strategy worked.
A hat-trick for Ian DeBois lifted the Hardrockers 4-1 over the Mustangs at Sioux Park Stadium.
The win started a season that Mines coach Andrew Conniff hopes will build off the Hardrockers' 4-12-2 season last year.
"I love the strategy and thinking side of the game, and I know I lean on that too much and we don’t focus on competing, playing hard and winning balls in the air, this year we’ve emphasized that against my will," Conniff said with a smile. "Today it showed because we didn’t really play a pretty game and the boys found a way to do the things they needed to to score goals and limit opportunities.
"Ultimately I don’t like watching soccer like that, but I like watching my boys enjoy it and getting a result, so that part was good," he said of Sunday's game."
That line of thinking came to Conniff in the offseason because of the way Mines ended 2017, not the way it started it. The Hardrockers went 3-2-2 in their first seven matches, but fell to 1-10-0 for the rest of the season.
Conniff said Mines focused so much of its time during training to the tactical side of the game that be believes it was better prepared to face opponents because it knew what to do in any tactical situation.
"Throughout the season, as other teams were hitting their stride in that regard, we weren’t doing the ugly side of the game well because we hadn’t been competing regularly in training," he said. "Last season we saw some success but not as much as we want to, what needs to change for us to see more? Against what I would like to do hopefully we’re going to see that success and we’ll be peaking in October instead of the second week of September."
Sunday the Hardrockers were aided by two red-cards from Morningside, including one which came 15 minutes into the match on Mustang goalie Tim Erdman.
Erdman stepped outside of the goalie box to pick up a ball that Mines forward Justin Barkow was making a run on, which is an immediate red-card.
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The second red-card came in the 72nd minute when Julius Fassbinder had a hand-ball inside the box as a shot was heading for the goal.
"Tough for them to get two red cards, but they were both deserved," Conniff said. "Both situations call for a red and that really opened up the game for us to have a little more challenge in the midfield and keep challenging their back line."
DeBois was the first to get on the board, when he scored on a assistant from Barkow in the 17th minute.
Conniff said last season was tough for DeBois. He missed time due to injuries, so he was happy to see DeBois have the best game of his career in the first game of the season.
His success could also give Barkow a break. Last season he scored 10 of Mines 24 goals, and Conniff said Mines needs more contribution from other members of the offense. He thinks he can get it, and DeBois' performance is just the start.
"If we want to be better we can’t rely on one individual for that much of our production," he said. "It was a challenge to Ian, and Noah (McKenzie) and Garrett (Bonzell) and other guys we see in that attacking area to contribute goals and assists."
That was the only goal of the first half, but in the second half a different Hardrocker found the back of the net, freshman George Martinez in the 48th minute on an assist from McKenzie.
"We want to see him on the stat sheet four or five times a season so that’s something I think they’re excited (about)," Conniff said. "We’re getting guys besides Justin involved in scoring. If we have multiple threats all of a sudden teams can’t cater to that individual and try to shut him down because he have other guys who can contribute."
DeBois added his second goal of the game on a penalty kick in the 50th minute, and scored again in the 72nd minute on another penalty kick.
Morningside's one goal came in the 68th minute from Murat Turan on an assist from Mortiz Lusch.
Mines is back in action next Sunday when it takes on the University of Mary on the road at noon.