Athletics & Recreation / Magazine Feature

Men’s soccer players divulge pre-game rituals

Blame the frigid weather or the game time changes. Blame bad luck and injuries. Blame the flu. Just don’t blame the chicken Parmesan.

No, sir, the chicken Parmesan Mike Schettler (BSBA ’83) cooks up for the University of Denver’s men’s soccer team at pre-game chow-downs is the real deal.

“I make a big, gigantic thing of sauce,” Schettler explains. “I let it cook all day. We fry up some chicken and we bake it in the oven. I put cheese on top. Some pasta, some garlic bread, some salad. They fill their stomachs, they go out and they win.”

The chicken Parmesan-fueled home hot streak began Aug. 29 with a thrashing of Stanford in DU’s new stadium. That was followed by solid victories over Dayton and Belmont and a scoreless tie with Washington in two overtimes. The team seemed on a garlic-sparked roll: pre-game chicken Parmesan at Schettler’s restaurant, Stick-e-Star, then a solid outing on the pitch.

Then disaster struck. The University of Missouri at Kansas City came to town the day the temperature in Denver peaked at 23 degrees. A thin layer of snow covered the pitch. Conditions were officially described as “brutal.” The game time was advanced an hour. Even worse, the chicken Parmesan ritual was advanced an hour as well.

“I don’t know what we can attribute that loss to,” says star senior midfielder Collin Audley. “Maybe switching the eating time messed with our routine.”

Coaches, of course, don’t believe in jinxes, but to players, pre-game routines are important.

“I clean the house before games,” Audley says. “It’s a way to keep my mind off things and clear my head a bit.”

Kris Banghart, a senior defenseman and Audley’s roommate, “does the bathroom.”

While the seniors are scrubbing, junior midfielder Ian Cross focuses on footwear. “I put my right shoe on first every time,” Cross says. “As long as I can remember it’s always been the right shoe.”

Sophomore defenseman Bob Miltenberger says he doesn’t have to think that hard. “Our socks tell which leg to put it on so you can’t really mess that one up.” But he does like Schettler’s chicken Parmesan and a pre-game process that’s predictable. “Nobody likes breaking their routine.”

Sophomore midfielder Alex DeCosta agrees. “It’s sort of a game-day ritual. Eat chicken Parmesan and get ready for the game.” Is Schettler’s chicken Parmesan the secret to success? “That would be the secret,” says sophomore forward Jordan Softli.

But coach Bobby Muuss is skeptical.

“I wish there was a direct correlation,” Muuss says. “I’d take Mike on the road.”

Muuss says injuries and illnesses are have rocked the team, which at full strength “can play with anybody.” And while he appreciates any good luck derived from eating chicken Parmesan, “we gotta do more to create our own luck as well.”

The last regular-season home game is Nov. 5 when the Pioneers take on Seattle. It’s a game rescheduled from Oct. 30 due to snowfall. The hard luck that began in that shivering Oct. 10 loss to Missouri-Kansas City has since produced three more road losses, but Thursday’s match-up is the team’s last chance to break the cold streak. Clear skies are forecast with a high of 61. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.; the pre-game meal’s at 3:45.

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