JMU men's soccer

JMU men's soccer coach Paul Zazenski addresses the team during the Dukes 4-0 win over Gardner-Webb.

Just 21 days before the JMU men’s soccer regular season began, former head coach Tom Foley stepped away from his position. The 2017 CAA Men’s Soccer Coach of the Year left big shoes to fill, but his replacement is ready to bring the Dukes success. His successor is former assistant coach Paul Zazenski.

Zazenski, a graduate from the UNC at Greensboro, comes in with a solid head coaching record. As the head coach for Great Falls, he boasted a 70-23-4 record in five seasons. His resume shows he very well can be the guy to help the Dukes continue to trend upward. 

When Zazenski was named Foley’s replacement, there was little time for planning. With the season quickly approaching, Zazenski had to handle things quickly. 

“When they announced me as the next head coach, I didn’t have time to think about it,” Zazenski said. “There were three days until preseason when I found out, so there wasn’t a lot of time to really think, rather just go and do. At the same time, I was extremely happy.”

Replacing the reigning CAA Coach of the Year is a challenge, no matter the sport. Despite the coaching change, Zazenski plans to continue what Foley put in place during his years as head coach. 

“I was on his staff, so obviously carrying through what we’ve started and what coach Foley has implemented,” Zazenski said. “With that being said, [we’re going to] try and put our own spin on things because I’m a new head coach, but the concepts are going to remain the same … We’d be stupid to not continue the things that have worked in the past.”

Not only is the head coach of JMU men’s soccer expected to bring success and accolades, he’s expected to help players develop and become premier athletes. Redshirt sophomore forward Carson Jeffris discussed how Zazenski has helped him in his development as a player. 

“He’s pushed me to be constantly getting better and not be satisfied with where I am right now,” Jeffris said. “He’s always taught me what’s the next step, what can you be doing better, how you can improve, how can you score more goals, how you can help the team and how you can get better today.”

No matter how good a single player is, soccer is a team sport. Graduate student midfielder Yannick Franz is one of the team’s veterans and realizes the importance of improving on an individual basis, but also as a team. 

“[Zazenski] is focusing on team building activities to get to know each other,” Franz said. “So if there’s adversity, everybody can address it the right way. We’re focusing on talking to each other, so that way when someone criticizes another, we think ‘OK, you just want to help me.’”

For a program to meet high expectations, the standard needs to be set. Zazenski knows what Dukes fans expect, and the team understands that as well. 

“[Zazenski] sets a very high standard,” Franz said. “He’s always like, ‘I might bother you by always being the guy who complains, but in the end, it’s to make you better.’ He wants us to perform to our best level, and I think that’s what we need.”

Zazenski brings energy to the sidelines that helps motivate his team in tough points during a match. When he brings that vitality, it allows players to improve during practice because they’re pushed to a new level. 

“The energy he brings to practices and games makes it a lot more intense to play and a lot more enjoyable, rather than be just as if it’s another training session,” Jeffris said. “It’s a job. We have to come here and get better. He provides the energy, so we follow suit.”

Of course, life isn’t all about soccer for Zazenski. His wife and two small children enjoy the family-friendly feel that Harrisonburg has to offer. 

“We like to go out to eat and go downtown and go to the market,” Zazenski said. “Things like that are excellent when you’re trying to raise two small, young ones and a third on the way.”

Zazenski wanting the best for his family translates to his passion for helping his players. Franz describes him as ambitious, Jeffris says Zazenski is passionate, but if you were to ask Zazenski to describe himself in one word, he’d say hardworking. That attitude is what he’ll use to help the team compete in every game they play. 

“Get behind us and give us a chance to be successful,” Zazenski said. “The support has been amazing in the short time I’ve been a head coach. We just ask to come out to games and see our brand of soccer.”

Contact Noah Ziegler at zieglenh@dukes.jmu.edu. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.