With a new coach in place and the loss of several starters from a successful four-year run, there is no question that many would view the upcoming 2013 season as a transitional year for Missouri S&T's men's soccer team.
However, Gabe Hall – who is beginning his first season as the Miners' head coach – sees the season ahead as a year of opportunity for this squad. The season will get underway for Missouri S&T on Saturday, when it hosts Southwest Baptist at 7:30 p.m. as part of the MIAA-GLVC Classic at the S&T Soccer Field.
"So far, the preseason has been going well," Hall said. "Everybody has been integrating well and day-by-day we have been improving. At this point in time, that is all I can really ask for that we get better every day.
"Experience-wise, we're young, but we've got a lot of older, leadership guys who have been around the program for a while and can carry some of the things from the past to this year's squad," Hall added. "They are excited for the opportunity to prove what they can do and show that they can continue to drive the program forward."
The Miners have a good place to begin that process in goal, where they will return one of the Great Lakes Valley Conference's top goalkeepers in Matt Jackson (Iowa City, Iowa/Iowa City West). Last season, Jackson finished sixth in NCAA Division II with a 0.60 goals against average and ranked third nationally with a .867 save percentage to help the Miners post the third-best shutout percentage in Division II with nine shutouts in 16 contests.
Jackson will have competition in the nets this season from sophomore James Holloway (Cape Girardeau, Mo./Notre Dame Regional), who has been impressive throughout the pre-season and incoming freshman Mason Fannin (Kansas City, Mo./Park Hill).
"The goalkeeper position has been a strong position for us," Hall said. "Matt has a lot of experience and is very consistent, which will bode well for the team. James has given him great competition and while he doesn't have the game experience, he has the ability to make the big time save – and any time you can make a big save and keep your team in it and excite the squad, it's a boost for everyone."
In front of them, S&T has two returning starters on the back line in senior Joe Macke (St. Charles, Mo./Francis Howell Central HS) and junior Taylor Arens (Springfield, Mo./Catholic HS) while E.J. Zembas (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley Northwest), another senior, is expected to see a good deal of playing time at the position as well.
"Right now, we have five or six guys fighting for four positions," Hall said. "Experience is really something that is hard to replace. Joe is a very competitive player and part of defending is just that, being determined not to get beat and win the individual battles. E.J. is very consistent and is becoming one of our vocal leaders back there."
Page 2 of 3 - In addition to that trio, S&T returns sophomore Ryan Lawhead (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) to the position as well as returning senior Ryan Tinsley (St. Charles, Mo./Christian Brothers College HS) and freshman Mitch Morris (O'Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West), all of whom are expected to compete for spots in the rotation along the back line.
At the midfield spot, the Miners bring back their leading returning goal scorer from a season ago in Timmy Kenny (Wildwood, Mo./Lafayette), along with fellow seniors Carlos Gomez (Madrid, Spain/Nuestra Sra Del Recurerdo) and Diego Robayo (Snohomish, Wash./Snohomish). Kenny scored four times in the 2012 campaign, while Gomez and Robayo had a goal apiece during the year.
"These three are more attacking players for us, with Timmy also having the ability to play as a defensive midfielder," Hall said. "They each bring something different and can balance each other out, along with newcomers Joe Aubuchon (Springfield, Mo./Glendale) and Neil Wiaranowski (Naperville, Ill./Naperville North)."
Aubuchon transferred to S&T from Crowder College, while Wiaranowski is out of the Chicago area and played on one of the top club programs in the state of Illinois over the last several years. The Miners also bring back sophomore Kramer Hall (Liberty, Mo./Liberty HS), who is also expected to compete for a spot at the midfield position.
"Within this group of players, they are competing for three spots," Hall said. "They all bring something a little different to the table. There are going to be games that call for a little more competitiveness and athleticism in the middle, while there will be others where we will need guys who can keep possession and keep the ball moving and we have the players to do botht."
S&T's group of wings will include returners Ben Bartnicke (Little Rock, Ark./Catholic HS) and Gilberto Robayo (Snohomish, Wash./Snohomish) – two solid technical players in Hall's eyes – along with Bryce Phillips (Kingwood, Texas/Kingwood HS), Alex Reifschneider (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) and freshman Brody Bouillon (Parkville, Mo./Park Hill South).
"This has been exciting for me in the preseason as I'm seeing players start to grow in what is being asked of them," Hall said. "We've started games a little bit reserved, but as time has gone on, we've become better at finding gaps and stretching defenses."
Up front, the Miners have two returners at the striker position in senior Brian Seawright (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton) and junior David Zdvorak (Kansas City, Mo./Park Hill HS). Seawright was one of the Miners' top goal scorers a couple of seasons ago, while Zdvorak saw an increase in his playing time during the course of his sophomore season and scored once.
Page 3 of 3 - The weekend event will be a four-team classic that will also feature fellow GLVC member Missouri-St. Louis and Lindenwood from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. The Tritons and Lions will play at 5 p.m. Saturday, then UMSL will take on Southwest Baptist Sunday at 5 p.m.
Following the Miners' tilt Saturday with SBU, Missouri S&T will jump right into the fire as they will face a pair of pre-season favorites in their respective conferences. S&T will take on Lindenwood, picked to win the MIAA title this season, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, then heads to the road for its first GLVC contest against defending league champion Rockhurst on Sept. 13.
"Starting out with Southwest Baptist and Lindenwood will really help us get prepared for our conference season," Hall said. "SBU is going to be a much improved team and Lindenwood can play with anyone in Division II, so we'll get a good idea as to how we can compete with quality teams from the opening weekend of the season. After that, we open the GLVC schedule with Rockhurst, who has been the standard in this conference for many years."
S&T's 2013 men's soccer schedule:
Sept. 7...GLVC/MIAA Crossover in Rolla: vs. Southwest Baptist, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 8...GLVC/MIAA Crossover in Rolla: vs. Lindenwood, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13...at Rockhurst, 7:30 p.m.*
Sept. 15...William Jewell, 2:30 p.m.*
Sept. 20...at Southern Indiana, 7:30 p.m.*
Sept. 22...at Illinois-Springfield, 2:30 p.m.*
Sept. 27...McKendree, 7:30 p.m.*
Sept. 29...Bellarmine, 2:30 p.m.*
Oct. 4...at Maryville, 1:30 p.m.*
Oct. 6...at Missouri-St. Louis, 2:30 p.m.*
Oct. 11...Quincy, 7:30 p.m.*
Oct. 13...Truman St., 2:30 p.m.*
Oct. 18...at Indianapolis, 6:30 p.m.*
Oct. 20...at Saint Joseph's, 2:30 p.m.*
Oct. 25...Lewis, 7:30 p.m.*
Oct. 27...Wisconsin-Parkside, 2:30 p.m.*
Oct. 30...Drury, 8:30 p.m.*
*-Great Lakes Valley Conference game