In 2008 the Spring Hill College men's soccer team took the field with 13 freshmen, eight sophomores, one junior and just two seniors on its roster. As a result, the inexperienced Badgers stumbled to a disappointing 4-11-3 record. This season Interim Head Coach Daniel Whelan looks at another remarkably young lineup that features eight freshmen, seven sophomores, five juniors and only one senior. Whelan, however, refuses to see his team's youth as a detriment. Instead, he sees this team as one that is filled with youthful enthusiasm and talent that he can mold into his style of soccer team while also building a consistent winner in the long run.
"We're young, but we have good players," Whelan says. "Almost all of our sophomores saw lots of playing time last year and that's an advantage. We also have strong upperclassmen who will provide leadership for our younger players."
Leading the defensive charge for the Badgers this year will be junior Devon Arnold of Mobile, Ala., who was an honorable mention All Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) selection last season and won the reputation as being one of the conference's toughest defensive players in the air. Junior Collin Gasparovic of St. Louis, Mo., will step into a starting role in 2009 after sitting out much of 2008 with an injury. "We're happy to have Collin back," says Whelan. "When you have an injured player return after almost an entire season it's like getting a new player, but with the advantage of experience."
Joining Gasparovic on defense will be sophomore Phoenix Iverson from Decatur, Ala., who drew 15 starts as a freshman, and freshman Andy Poveda of Niceville, Fla. "Andy will challenge for starting time right way," says Whelan. "He's a tough player with very good skills." Freshmen Zack McDuffie of Foley, Ala., and Rainer Mays from Nashville, Tenn., will add depth to the line-up this year and should be pressed into early service.
In goal, a battle for the keeper's spot has shaped up during the preseason workouts. Junior Dan Criscione of St. Louis has stepped into the role in both of the last two seasons following injuries to the starters, but freshman Tommy Campbell of St. Louis has also caught Whelan's attention in the preseason. "It's going to be a tough decision as to who starts this year, but I feel confident in the abilities of both our keepers."
The deepest position for the Badgers this season might well be the midfield where senior Zachariah Townsend of Middleburg, Fla., returns to provide leadership and experience. Joining Townsend are several reserve players from last season who will move into starting roles this year. Sophomore John Tanner of Gulf Shores, Ala., played in 16 contests with just five starts in 2008 but now looks ready to step into the starting line-up along with sophomores Tyler King of Biloxi, Miss., and Josh Ledet and David Allen, who both hail from Fairhope, Ala.
Junior Ryan Burns of Stratford, Conn., saw action in 15 matches last season and along with freshmen Justin Iserman of Pensacola, Fla., Frankie Pica of Ellisville, Mo., and Trey Smith of Foley should be a valuable asset in Whelan's midfield arsenal as the season progresses.
On offense, sophomore Gable Fortune of St. Louis was the second leading goal-scorer for the 2008 edition of the Badgers and this year's top returning scorer. "Gable will be our man to look for when it comes to finishing off the plays," says Whelan. "But we'll have a few other options this year as well."
One of the other options available will be junior college transfer Willy Sanchez of Miami, Fla., who comes to the Badgers after two successful seasons at Western Texas College. "Willy will be someone we'll look for this year to chip in a few more goals for us," says Whelan. Sophomore Bryce Privett of Fairhope played in all 18 games for the Badgers last season with 16 starts and led the team in assists. "Bryce creates problems for others teams," Whelan says. "He makes opponents make decisions and then makes them pay if they make the wrong decision." Freshman Harrison Kennedy of Stuttgart, Ark., will also see playing time in the forward position.
Overall, Whelan is impressed with his team's attitude in the early going. "They have a great team spirit and enthusiasm. It's a difficult schedule ahead of us with some of the best teams in the South on the slate, but I think we'll be a surprise to most people," he says.
Spring Hill's men open the season Sunday, August 29, at No. 18 Auburn-Montgomery (1-0) beginning at 4 p.m. The home season begins at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, September 4, versus NAIA newcomer Truett-McConnell College from Cleveland, Ga.