By Dave Wagner
When Harold Munoz left his position as the Eastern New Mexico University men’s soccer coach in late July, Tyler Hart’s life quickly changed.
Hart, who played soccer for the Greyhounds from 2006-09 before serving under Munoz as a student assistant in 2010 and a grad assistant last year, was named interim coach at age 26.
He went from essentially being a friend of the players, some of whom he’d played with, to being the leader.
“I want them to trust me as a friend, and that’s important,” Hart said. “But I want them to respect me.”
ENMU, which went 9-5-4 in its second season as an independent last year following the dissolution of the Lone Star Conference in the sport due to lack of teams, kicks off its season today at Adams State before playing its home opener at 11 a.m. on Sunday against Colorado-Colorado Springs.
Hart acknowledges it’s a tough to earn a postseason berth when you don’t have a league to try to win. And with only a 17-game schedule, Hart thinks it might take 12 wins to qualify.
“And it would be a school record, as well,” he said, noting ENMU won 11 matches in 2009, his senior year.
Senior midfielder Jehmaine Brooks, who like Hart is from the Toronto area, said the coaching change hasn’t been a major adjustment.
“I’ve been with Harold since I’ve been here,” he said. “But Tyler has made a lot of positive changes. He’s easy to talk to, closer to us in age.”
Like his coach, Brooks also believes it may take 12 wins to get into the postseason.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s what life’s about,” he said. “We just have to overcome a lot.”
The Hounds graduated a number of key players from last year’s squad.
“We lost some players with big shoes to fill,” Hart said. “But I think we have these guys working well as a team. We’ve really stressed that.”
Junior Carlos Viveros of Katy, Texas, returns in midfield, and Hart said he will also be an important player.
“He creates the most (scoring) chances,” Hart said. “He’s very dangerous on the ball.”
Among younger players Hart hopes can step in are freshman midfielder Braulio Martinez of Albuquerque, freshman defenders Alex Beeby of Leicester, England, and Edgar Davila of Santa Fe, and freshman goalkeeper James Gutierrez of Albuquerque. The latter two redshirted last year.
The other former LSC members, West Texas A&M and Midwestern State, should be among the toughest opponents for the Hounds. They comprise one-third of the nine independent programs in NCAA Division II, Hart said.
“I consider those league games,” he said of WT and MSU. “They’ll probably be four of the tougher games we play all year.
“I feel like we are one of the top teams in the South Central Region. I’ve tried to get the guys to focus on being top three in the region, or at least top five so we’ll be considered (for a postseason berth).”
4 — at Adams State, 5 p.m.; 7 — Colo.-Colorado Springs, 11 a.m.; 9 — Wayland Baptist, 4 p.m.; 12-13 — at Texas A&M International tournament (12 vs. Texas A&M International, 5 p.m.; 13 vs. St. Mary’s, 10 a.m.); 18 — Texas-Permian Basin, 4:30 p.m.; 22 — St. Edward’s, 1 p.m.; 25 — Newman, 4 p.m.; 27 — Oklahoma Christian, 1 p.m.; 30 — at University of the Southwest, 3 p.m.
2 — at Lubbock Christian, 3 p.m.; 8 — at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m.; 11 — at Dallas Baptist, noon; 19 — West Texas A&M, 3 p.m.; 27 — at Midwestern State, 4 p.m.
1 — Midwestern State, 1 p.m.; 9 — Lubbock Christian, 2 p.m.
All times Mountain.