On Jan. 17, the HC men’s soccer team took another monumental step in the progression to establishing themselves as one of NAIA’s most elite soccer programs.
Coming off the heels of a record breaking 39- game winning streak and going to two straight NAIA national titles, senior Nate Polak became the first ever player from the GPAC conference to be drafted by a Major League Soccer program.
Polak, a 6-foot-2-inch midfielder from Lincoln, was selected by the New York Red Bulls as the 12th pick in the fourth round of the MLS Supplemental Draft.
“Best put, it’s a dream come true,” Polak said.
The Red Bulls’ selection of Polak has generated more nationwide interest in HC soccer.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of interest from people we’ve never heard of before – different reporters or bloggers writing about it and wondering what is Hastings College,” said Chris Kranjc, Broncos men’s head coach.
Despite HC’s success, soccer followers from outside the NAIA are mostly unfamiliar with HC soccer. In fact, on the official write-up of the Red Bulls’ recent acquisition of Polak, he was described as “one of the top junior college players in the nation.”
HC is not a “junior college” and obviously the HC program has more work to do to be nationally recognized. However, Polak’s opportunity to play professionally in the largest media outlet in the country may have some clout to change that if he can make it in the majors.
“He’s going to have to produce,” Kranjc said. “He’s going to have to stay after practice and work a little bit extra with the speed and conditioning aspects but also with being better technically with the ball.”
Currently, Polak is focused on finishing his final semester of college and graduating in May.
“The plan right now is to fly out to New York over spring break and get a week or two of training in before coming back to finish up school,” Polak said. “The most important step now is to stay in top form and keep improving as I still need to earn a contract.”
To get noticed, Polak started the process last summer with the help of the Hastings coaches.
“We started the process of contacting some coaches, seeing what we need to do to get these guys exposed a little bit more,” Kranjc said.
Polak trained for a week with the Seattle Sounders in the summer and then went back to Seattle for a combine in the middle of December.
“Making the most of these opportunities caught some coaches’ attention as my name was entered into the draft board,” Polak said. “Tim Bohnenkamp also deserves a lot of credit for spending many hours putting together a great highlight video of myself and getting the word out about it.”
Polak played a crucial role in raising HC to a yearly national competitor. At HC, Polak was named an NAIA first team All-American for his senior season where he scored 18 goals and 17 assists, while also leading the NAIA in shots on goal per game, averaging 3.73 shots. Polak scored 43 goals and 30 assists in his career for the Broncos.