In an athletic era where youthful talent trumps nearly everything, the importance of experience can be soon discarded and forgotten. Instead of relying on seasoned veterans who have gone through the wars, many coaches are choosing to go with athletes whose amazing giftedness allows them to overlook the shortcomings of inexperience.
Not so with Jim Rickard, if he has a choice. By the very nature of his 21 years of coaching experience, Rickard knows a thing or two about the enormous benefits of “been there, done that” on the field of play. So, as the 2012 edition of the men’s soccer team takes to the pitch he’ll be relying on the play of his seniors, all two of them, to guide a very young team. That’s right, just two seniors, and only one of them is a four-year performer. In fact, of the 22 players on the active roster, 17 are either freshmen or sophomores.
One of those seniors, goalkeeper Andrew Bussell, plays the loneliest, yet most important position on the field so his performance will be a key to the squad’s success. He has developed into an outstanding technician between the pipes and if he plays like he’s expected to he’ll keep the Mustangs in every game and garner some postseason recognition, too. Putting even more on his shoulders, he must stay healthy because there’s no one else behind him.
Thankfully, the same won’t be true for those playing right in front of Bussell. That last line of defense boasts plenty of depth spearheaded by junior center defender Austin Michelson and sophomore transfer Ricardo Vazquez. Michelson is the unit’s undisputed leader and a strong, one-on-one player while Vazquez boasts a physical game that will put the hurt on those who invade his territory.
To Michelson’s left, sophomore incumbent Kamalei Pihana will pound opponents on the outside while his opposite on the right, another second-year player, sophomore Jordan Edwards, has parlayed outstanding athleticism into a starting job. This quartet will get plenty of help from sophomores Taylor Shahi and Jamison Kropilak, and freshman Ryan Dolan.
This last line of defense will either benefit or feel enormous pressure from the play of the midfielders just in front of them. The quartet of starters in the midfield, primarily responsible for creating scoring chances and repelling opponent advances, exemplifies the club’s youth movement in a pair of juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman with a combined 23 collegiate starts under their belts.
That is both a cause for concern and optimism as this group and those who back them up should energize the club while experiencing the typical ups and downs during the season. In the center of the field, junior Kevin Scheunneman will provide veteran stability and will be called upon to be the field general in his first full year as a starter while freshman Vini Barauna will join him and use his sparkling ball skills to set up teammates further down the field. On the outside, junior Kenny Gardner steps back into his starting job on the right side as a relentless performer while on the left, speedy sophomore James Obimbo is a first-time starter with a huge upside.
Exemplifying the club’s youth movement, a trio of freshmen will push those starters for playing time, beginning with center midfielder Joey Mikulas who will be part of the regular rotation from the opening whistle with a college-ready game. Fellow first-year collegians Chad Latch and Nick Saldivia should see plenty of time on the outside, too.
In addition to stopping the offensive advances of opponents, the midfielders are also charged with getting the ball up the field to the strikers who may be in the best position to put shots on goal. Hoping to capitalize on those passes are a pair of sophomores, Zach Egeler, the top returning scorer from last year’s squad, and Brett Croft, who moves up from the midfield hoping to add some punch to the attack. They’ll be backed up by senior Peter Martin and freshman Austin Rochow.
So, there are many unknowns for a young squad looking to a few upperclassmen who can guide them through what promises to be a challenging campaign. What is known, though, is a schedule that features a challenging non-conference slate and a revamped GSAC. The early part of the season features play in the Concordia (OR) Classic where the Mustangs will face No. 16 Concordia. Conference play kicks off in late September with a match against No. 14 and defending GSAC Tournament champion Biola followed less than a week later by a tussle with No. 18 Concordia.