Finding roles, refining young talent and developing team chemistry will be some of the keys to success for the Tabor College men?s soccer team this season.
Ninth-year coach Grant Brubacher has added some new talent to a list of experienced returners from last year?s 6-13 campaign. The younger athletes? development will be important as players settle into roles in anticipation of a successful season.
?I believe the recruiting we?ve done and the experience we gained last year is going to benefit us with our team this year,? Brubacher said. ?One of the key things will be how some of our young players respond. We will need contributions from a number of freshmen.
?Having that youth on your team is a bit of an unknown, but we do have talented players that should be able to compete. I think as the season goes along and they gain experience, we?ll continue to improve.?
Brubacher has 33 athletes on the roster. Topping the list of returners are three all-conference athletes.
Senior defender Dominique Mays was Tabor?s only first-team All-KCAC selection a year ago.
Junior forward Bransyn Felty returns as a second-team pick. Felty led the Blue?jays in goals with 16, rank?ing him 16th in NAIA Division I. He averaged 0.84 goals per game to rank 25th. He also led Tabor in shots (61, or 3.21 per game) and shots on goal with 37. His average of 1.95 shots on goal ranked him 40th nationally.
Tabor also returns senior midfielder Joe Lopez, an honorable-mention selection last season.
Brubacher will also rely on a number of other returning players. Two additional starting defenders return: juniors Drew Janzen and Cole Younger. Meanwhile, senior Manuel Miranda-Cortez joins Lopez as a returner in the midfield.
Sophomore Agustin Ariza also returns. Having played in the midfield a year ago, Ariza will contribute at forward this season.
?Agustin will be going back to his natural position as a forward,? Brubacher said. ?We played him out of position last year, so we expect him to do really well moving back to the forward position.?
Felty and Ariza will provide stability to the forward position, which was dealt big losses with the graduation of all-conference forwards Philipp Wahl and Alberto Checa.
Wahl was Tabor?s assist leader with nine (0.5 per game). Those numbers ranked him 40th and 30th, respectively, in NAIA Division I. He scored eight goals (0.44 per game), and took 35 shots, including 21 shots on goal.
Checa scored two goals last year and took 16 shots (10 shots on goal).
?The most production we lost was at the forward position with Philipp Wahl and Alberto Checa graduating, so we?ll need to replace those goals,? Brubacher said. ?I believe Agustin will help us a lot there, and then we?ll also need to get some goals out of our midfield players to help replace that.?
Brubacher said he has quite a few newcomers who will fill key roles.
Senior Alfredo Piedra and freshman Bryson Henry are expected to contribute in the absence of starting goalkeeper Tom Gaskell, who is redshirting this year as a result of a shoulder injury.
Piedra and Henry join returning goalkeeper Kevin Bankowski, a senior, who played in six games last year.
Newcomers in the midfield include junior Jose Ruano, sophomore Niklas Flechsig, and freshmen Niklas Lenz, Michael Prichard and Oscar Moyano.
Adding strength to the defense will be freshman Lewis Furmenger.
The Bluejays finished fifth in the KCAC last year with a 5-4 record and were picked to finish fifth again by conference coaches in the preseason poll.
The top three placers in the KCAC preseason poll?Oklahoma Wesleyan, McPherson and Kansas Wesleyan?each made appearances in the national tournament a year ago.
Oklahoma Wesleyan ranks 20th in the NAIA men?s soccer coaches? preseason Top 25 poll, while McPherson ranks 24th. Kan?sas Wesleyan is receiving votes.
Friends, the fourth-place finisher, returns much of its roster and a good number of international players, Bru?bacher said.
For the Bluejays, success will be gained as players settle into roles.
?We will rely on a number of new players to play key roles,? Brubacher said. ?We?ll have to see how that develops and how the team chemistry develops, and find the right roles for players. As that happens, I believe we have enough talent to have a good season.?
Tabor opened the season with a 1-0 loss to South?western Christian Aug. 25. The Bluejays will again be in action Sept. 3 in a 7:30 p.m. home contest against John?son and Wales.