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Bluejay freshman off to big start

Bluejay freshman off to big start

Lopez-Espin has two game-winning goals, adds punch with Herbers

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CREIGHTON MEN'S SOCCER

Like any goal scorer, Creighton's Ricky Lopez-Espin knows the value of a strong finish.

That's why the freshman forward from Miami is downplaying his quick start that has helped the Bluejays go from being unranked to No. 8 in the coaches poll after the opening week of the season.

"It feels good, but it's a long season," Lopez-Espin said. "Hopefully I can keep it up, but I wouldn't be doing this without my teammates."

Lopez-Espin scored game-winning goals in Creighton's first two wins. He started a 2-0 victory over then-No. 20 Stanford by scoring in the 11th minute, then delivered the only goal in a 1-0 win over Santa Clara.

Lopez-Espin also scored the final two goals in a 4-2 victory over then-No. 21 Wisconsin in the Bluejays' final exhibition match. In addition to scoring four of his team's last five goals, he assisted on the other.

"I don't want to jinx him," Creighton coach Elmar Bolo-wich said, "but he's certainly been an asset."

The 6-foot-2,180-pound Lopez-Espin earned Big East rookie of the week honors for his play in the first two matches. He also gained a spot on Top-Drawer Soccer's national team of the week.

Bolowich isn't necessarily surprised by the way Lopez-Espin has transitioned to the collegiate game. He scored 32 goals in his final two seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary's, an elite private school located in Faribault, Minnesota.

Lopez-Espin also participated in the U.S. under-20 national team camp.

"Ricky has good instincts," Bolowich said. "He finds the right spots. For a forward, that's invaluable.

"You can talk to some forwards until you're blue in the face and they'd still run into the wrong spots or make a run at the wrong time. That's something he brings that you really can't coach."

Lopez-Espin also might be benefiting from Bolowich's tweaking of the Bluejays' offensive system. The coach decided to go with a two-forward attack after primarily playing a one-forward system his first three seasons at Creighton.

The switch allows Lopez-Espin to team with sophomore Fabian Herbers, the Bluejays' second-leading scorer last season. Herbers scored Creighton's other goal against Stanford, showcasing his speed to blow past a defender after taking a pass from Lopez-Espin.

Even though the two have been teammates just a short time, Lopez-Espin said, they have developed a strong chemistry. Lopez-Espin first sensed that when they were playing five-on-five practice games before the start of preseason training.

"We got to know each other there, and we've been able to transfer it to the big field," Lopez-Espin said. "I love playing with him. We read each other well and our skills complement each other.

"I'm a guy that likes the ball at his feet. Fabian is fast and knows how to use his speed. He's a guy that can really turn on the jets."

After a strong start last season, Creighton's offense stalled in the second half.

"One of the things I like about Ricky is how opportunistic he is up front," Bolowich said. "That's something that we didn't have last year. He fills a void.

"He can hold the ball, he can combine with others, he can score goals."

Bolowich hopes Lopez-Espin stays hot as Creighton heads into a pair of home matches this week. The Bluejays will face Western Illinois at 7:30 p.m. Friday as part of the school's annual Socctoberfest. The unbeaten Creighton women (3-0) will face New Mexico State at 5 p.m.

The men will play Cincinnati at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, with the women squaring off against Drake at 3:30 p.m.

The wins against Stanford and Santa Clara vaulted Creighton into the top 10 in the coaches poll after the Bluejays had opened the season unranked for just the third time since 1998.

"It's a good start but we can't fall back now," Lopez-Espin said. "We can't be content with what we've done. We have to stay hungry."

Contact the writer:

402-679-2298, steve.pivovar@owh.com twitter.com/PivOWH

SOCCTOBERFEST

Western Illinois at Creighton

7:30 p.m. Friday Morrison Stadium

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