While new faces will dot the pitch at Spartan Field this fall, Manchester University head coach Dave Good is optimistic.
"My (assistant coach) Corey (Brueggeman) and I are really excited about what we hope is a strong first-year class," Good said. "We did lose a lot of on-field experience when the Class of 2013 graduated, but I think the competition that we'll see in preseason camp will be very good. There will be many spots up for grabs."
The bulk of the returning experience will be on defense. Sophomore Drew Vergonet (Elkhart, Ind.), junior Josh Collier (Anderson, Ind.) and senior Matt Suderman (Bluffton, Ohio) saw a lot of playing time last fall in back. Senior Matt Gray (Anderson, Ind.) had similar experience on the field early in 2012 at the middle and transitioning to defense before an injury cut his season short. Junior Mark Zinser (Guilford, Ind.) and senior Connor Seavers (Auburn, Ind.) saw action in the back and midfield, too.
"It'll be a necessity, especially early, for that group to be leaders," Good said. "Our defense will need to be strong, as we have very few returners on offense that saw a lot of playing time. We'll be looking for combinations of players who can put the ball in the net." That defensive unit will also need to assist a new face in goal for MU. Former Spartan standout Grant Noakes, a household name over the last four years, was among the Class of 2013.
"We've got (sophomore) Craig (Thacker of Lebanon, Ind.) who saw some limited back-up time last fall, so it will be a rebuilding situation," Good said. "There are also two other keepers vying for that position."
Offensively, Manchester University looks to replace 21 of its 27 goals scored from last fall. Suderman, who Good feels will be one of the team's overall leaders coming in, and junior Austin Finley (Kokomo, Ind.) each tallied two goals in 2012 for the top returning numbers.
"It'll be a mixed bag early until the new players figure out where they fit in," Good said. "(Loic) Youth (of Detroit, Mich.), (Zac) Hansen (of Muskegon, Mich.), and (Bertin) Gisagara (of Mishawaka, Ind.) each have chances to step up and show us what they can do after having been behind that large senior class.
"We are expecting several freshmen to be contending for spots all over the field," he added. "I'm hoping we can find some good combinations that will be productive. "
Good also pointed to junior Ellis Whitt (Bourbon, Ind.), who did earn some playing time last fall, to add to the 2013 squad. Several individuals who joined the program in the spring – highlighted by sophomores Simon Coleman, Luke Scheel, and Julio Luevano - should add depth as utility players.
"With the many new faces, team chemistry will be important from the beginning," he said. "It'll be important for our seniors to bring everyone together.
"Corey and I are both excited about what this season may hold," he added. "We both feel there is a good amount of potential on the team. We'll be fighting to get back into the top four in the conference."