TULSA, Okla. - "We don't want to just get into the national tournament, we have far bigger goals than that. In the whole grand scheme of things, that's just a small goal for us."
More than a week after the Oral Roberts University men's soccer team fell in the Summit League Tournament semifinals to Western Illinois, Head Coach Ryan Bush says the goals of the Golden Eagle program reaches beyond the league tournament.
"We are big on culture. We preach it every day," explained Bush. "The core values of what makes us a program are hands down the most important things for us to win championships. The guys have got to continue to grind, to buy into the culture of the program and work day in and day out."
Prior to Bush taking over the men's soccer program in spring of 2013, the Golden Eagles closed the 2012 campaign with a 4-13-0 overall mark and failed to qualify for the tournament. However, Bush has taken the Golden Eagles to back-to-back league tournaments, leading the Golden Eagles to a share of the regular season title with a 8-8-2 overall record and 3-2-1 mark against league opponents.
The championship was the first regular season title for ORU since 2004. It's the second title for Bush, who was a member of the 2001 regular season championship squad.
Bush said it's a phenomenal feeling to be a part of a championship as a player and now as coach, but quickly gave the players credit for the program's turnaround.
"The guys have worked exceptionally hard," said Bush. I think it makes it sweeter because from where we have come from."
"Last year we got picked last in the conference and we finished second. This year we didn't feel like we got the respect that we deserved when they picked us fourth, so it feels phenomenal as a coach, but I'm proud of the guys. All the hard work and effort that they put in, and everything that they've overcome along the way."
A big reason for the success in 2014 was the breakout season by forward redshirt senior Johnny Chavez who finished with a league-high 10 goals. Chavez was named the Summit League Offensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-Summit League. His season output in goals is the fourth most in a single season, and the most since Trey Vaut netted 10 in 2003.
"The bigger part of Johnny is how much he has grown up and matured over the last couple of years. The other great thing about Johnny is seeing him work," mention Bush. "It's the hardest I've ever seen him work since I've been watching him play since he was 15 years old. I've seen this focus, intensity and energy he trains with."
"He is always working after practice, doing things that next level players do."
Joining Chavez with all-league awards was Gerardo Salas, who also was named to the first team. Salas scored two goals in 2014, both of which were equalizers in both wins over Incarnate Word.
Tarik Salkicic was named to the All-Newcomer team after drilling three goals, third-most on the squad following Matthew Rogers with four. Defender Kaspars Kokis was also named to the All-Newcomer squad.
Other multiple goal scorers for ORU include Edgardo Mira with three and Juan Diego Padilla had two. The Golden Eagles netted a total of 27 goals in 2014, 10 more than the previous season.
"We changed our brand of soccer from a year ago," Bush explained when asked about goal output. "A year ago we set in, defended really hard and we were going to grind game out and win them 1-0. This year we were very a possession oriented team."
The Golden Eagles rattled off nine goals in their final four regular season matches, tying eventual NCAA tournament participant Denver for the most goals over a four-match period.
The Golden Eagles will look to build off 2014's success, returning six starts and 19 total lettermen.