Not much more could be asked of UIC soccer head coach Sasha Begovic.
Entering his 15th season at the helm of the Flames program, Begovic has turned UIC into a premier team both in the Horizon League and the Midwest, compiling five consecutive winning seasons, two league championships, two NCAA tournament berths and a trip to the NCAA `Sweet 16' in 2000.
Begovic has been successful by bringing the top local and national soccer talent to UIC. During his tenure, he has helped produce 14 First Team All-League honorees, five all-region performers and the school's first-ever NSCAA/Adidas All-American, Eric Lukin.
2003 started out with a bang for Begovic and the Flames, as UIC rolled to a school-best start to a season with five straight wins to open the campaign. The Flames also rattled off a seven-match undefeated streak at the end of the season, including four consecutive victories, to earn the No. 4 seed in the Horizon League Tournament. Although the team was eliminated from the tourney in a tough double-overtime loss to Wright State, Begovic turned a very young team into a squad that went 10-7-2 to earn the school's seventh straight double-digit win season.
Begovic will face a similar situation this season, as a slew of young talent will be infused into a team that lost ten letterwinners from 2003, including the school's second all-time leading scorer in Dennis King. Leading the way in 2004 will be seniors Adam Jones and Ryan Singer, two defensive stalwarts that have anchored a Flames defense that has held 20 opponents to a goal or less over the past two seasons, helping record nine shutouts along the way.
Begovic, who enters the 2004 campaign with an overall mark of 131-122-13, earned his 100th collegiate coaching victory with the Flames' 1-0 win over 24th-ranked Bradley on Nov. 19, 2000 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That victory launched UIC on to its first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance where it eventually fell to #3 Stanford. The Flames also notched an impressive milestone of their own as they finished ranked nationally for the first time ever, coming in at 21st in the country in the final 2000 National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
Along the road to its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2000, the Flames also captured their second straight Midwestern Collegiate Conference regular-season and tournament titles while also racking up a school record 18 victories. UIC landed seven players on the All-MCC teams with senior Eric Lukin collecting All-America recognition and MCC Player of the Year honors for the second straight season while rookie Pablo Melgar shared the league's newcomer of the year accolades.
In 1999, UIC enjoyed a storybook season as it captured its first-ever MCC regular-season and tournament titles while establishing a then-school record with 17 wins. After compiling a 5-3 record through the first eight outings of the season, UIC caught fire in early October and went undefeated the remainder of the regular season, winning a record 12 straight games before falling to nationally-ranked Saint Louis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 3-2.
At the conclusion of the MCC season, Begovic was hailed MCC Coach of the Year by his peers while Lukin collected MCC Player of the Year accolades. In all, the Flames landed six individuals on all-conference teams.
In 1998, Begovic's squad enjoyed one of its finest seasons in history as they matched a then-school record with 13 wins, recorded the most conference victories ever with five, ended up ranked eighth in the NCAA's Midwest Region and finished 10th in the country for win percentage (.794).
The Flames' recent success hasn't just happened overnight, however, as UIC has shown continued improvement each year under Begovic, highlighted by its back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. After building and growing during his early years, Begovic's 1996 squad showed marked improvement as it compiled eight victories, the most since the school's first year of NCAA competition in 1981. In 1997, UIC put together its first winning season under Begovic as it finished up with a 13-6-1 overall record and matched the school record for victories. 1998's team matched the 13 wins and the 1999 squad smashed that record with its 17 victories only to be outdone again in 2000 as the Flames piled up 18 wins.
A native of Yugoslavia, Begovic has also worked as an assistant coach at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
One of Begovic's former players, Herc Anastasakis, continued his soccer career in Greece as he signed a contract with the First Division Team. Two-time All-American Eric Lukin, who concluded his record-setting career in 2000, became Begovic's first-ever draft pick as the star forward was selected by the Colorado Rapids in the Major League Soccer draft. Lukin was also drafted by the Detroit Rockers of the National Professional Soccer League in the first round.
Begovic has extensive soccer playing experience as he enjoyed a professional career in Europe, Canada and the United States.