CEDAR RAPIDS — Amir Hadzic has experienced some surreal moments this season.
The longtime Mount Mercy men’s soccer coach has welcomed a cast of roster additions quite familiar to him. Most attended his soccer camps as early as age 8, while some played for him at Cedar Rapids Xavier High School.
All have helped the Mustangs to their best start in four years.
“All of a sudden you have these kids you coached as little kids and now they are adults,” said Hadzic, who will lead Mount Mercy into a Heart of America Conference match against No. 1 Central Methodist Saturday at 3:30 at the Plaster Athletic Complex.
“We always did the best with Mount Mercy when our roster was international and local or Midwest, because that combo allows us to have more fans at the games and families engaged. These kids bring something to the table that maybe foreign kids don’t have. A chip on the shoulder or a work ethic or a ‘refuse to lose’ attitude that they have, so it is a perfect mix. They all jump into it.”
Sophomore Will Hanigan was the first to take the leap. An all-state forward for Hadzic at Cedar Rapids Xavier from 2015-18, Hanigan was originally set to play college soccer at Illinois-Chicago until recurring back injuries caused his scholarship offer to be pulled. After a year at the University of Iowa, Hanigan received an offer to play for the semipro Cedar Rapids Inferno last summer. A healthy, productive summer of soccer convinced Hanigan that college soccer was still a possibility.
Reuniting with Hadzic felt natural.
“Playing this summer and not playing over the last year just made me miss it a lot,” said Hanigan, who scored his first goal of the season in Wednesday’s overtime win at Culver-Stockton. “I feel really blessed that he gave me an opportunity for me to come back because there are no guarantees with me because my body is always getting hurt. He really cares about me and he cares all of his players.”
Hanigan’s teammate for four years at Xavier, Thomas Bean, spent his first year of college playing at Truman State. Like Hanigan, Bean spent the summer with the Inferno and excelled at a new position in the back line of the defense.
“It was a lot of fun,” Bean said. “It is good to play for your hometown, especially for a new club. There is definitely a learning experience as one of the younger guys on the team. Will and I both were. When you play at a higher level like that with older guys, you learn a lot.”
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Bean decided to join Hanigan at Mount Mercy, as did their former Xavier teammate Maliki Wilson, who originally attended Wayne State for football. After a pair of concussions and multiple changes to the coaching staff, Wilson is now a junior defensive stalwart with the Mustangs.
“It is a really unique situation because there has not been this many Americans on the team in a while,” Hanigan said. “It has been good. I think us Americans have helped bridge some gaps.”
The same year Bean, Hanigan and Wilson won Xavier’s last state title for Hadzic in 2015, Jordan Webb won one with Linn-Mar. Webb spent a year at Marquette until a knee injury caused the Golden Eagles to sever ties. Like Hanigan, Webb transferred to the University of Iowa believing college soccer was in his past.
“After that I was so fed up with soccer,” Webb said. “I put so much work into everything and I gave up on everything. I was in a down place.”
A personal kick-around at Coe led to Webb to reconsider playing and he joined the Kohawks, but it lasted just a semester. Mount Mercy represented a last chance at college soccer for Webb, and he has found a home with Hadzic.
“It was the first time that I really felt like I was back at playing a level similar to Marquette,” Webb said. “It was like a homecoming. I felt like I was reuniting with something that I had been missing for a while.”
Mount Mercy (6-2-1) is 5-0-1 in its last six matches, but its biggest test awaits Saturday from the defending NAIA national champions.
“They are really on a roll but I think our guys would like to see that challenge and see where we are at,” Hadzic said. “Our goal would be to go to nationals. We didn’t go since 2015, so we really want to go again.”