When Spring Hill College men's soccer head coach Tim Brooks arrived in Mobile three years ago, he brought with him a plan for success. The 2011 season was the first step toward achieving that goal as the Badgers built a 10-9 record and secured the first winning record in the program's 20-year history. "My vision is to create a winning tradition," Brooks says. "And one winning record does not create a tradition. It's a nice start, but what I like about this year's team is that they are adamant about building a legacy here."
The 2012 Badgers will be a young team for the second consecutive year with 11 freshmen, 13 sophomores and four juniors on the roster. Brooks, however, likes having a young core at this point in the program's development. "It's actually very exciting," he says. "Younger players bring passion to everything we do. Our juniors and sophomores built a winning season last year and they are instilling the passion and lessons of last year into the freshmen."
It is unusual to think of a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores as being experienced, but several of the sophomores were fulltime starters in 2011. Sophomore forward Tyler Hartlage of Tampa, Fla., started 18 of 19 games last season and led the Badgers with eight goals and eight assists. "We're looking for another big year from Tyler," says Brooks. "And we also have junior Patrick Culotta (of New Orleans, La.) returning at another forward, so we should be improved on offense." Sophomore Jose Mario Escalante of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, started 16 matches for the Badgers in 2011 and will continue to play a vital part this season.
Sophomore Danny Ochoa of Miami, Fla., who played a major role off the bench in 2011, will contribute to the team's offensive punch as an attacker in the midfielder. "We are still exploring some options on our outside midfielders, but we should be dangerous moving forward," says Brooks. Sophomore Nick Smith of Huntsville, Ala., started all 19 games as a freshman in the midfield and he will be joined by freshman Jose Scheuren of Miami. "We've added depth in our midfield this year," Brooks says. "We are going to have different ways of getting results this year and not appear so one dimensional." Adding to the depth, sophomore Esteban Angel of Guayaquil, Ecuador, appeared in 17 matches with 11 starts in the Badger midfield last season.
Brooks is also confident in his defensive front. Junior Nick Link of Elizabethtown, Ky., is a three-year starter and Salvador Sanchis of Miami effectively converted from the midfield to defense last season. "Our interior defense will be experienced and strong," says Brooks. "We are still experimenting on the outside, but that's mainly due to the fact that we are now deeper at that position than last year." Sophomore Jabulani Thompson of Miami developed into a solid presence in 2011 with 13 starts and sophomore Dylan Gardner of Waterloo, Ill., appeared in 18 matches as a freshman.
The goalkeeping position will be a contest this season between sophomore Gabriel Jaramillo of Miami and freshman Jacob Files of Clinton, Miss. "Our goalkeepers have been playing well in the early practices," says Brooks. "We'll be happy with either player and we'll just have to see how it pans out." Sophomore Patrick Danner of Tampa who built a 3-1 record in four starts last season will also be a factor in goal for the Badgers.
In past seasons, Spring Hill tended to suffer a lack of quality depth in its reserve players, but Brooks has successfully added more talent to his bench with a strong recruiting class. Junior Andres Garcia of Navarre, Fla., returns with two-years of experience in the Badger offense while sophomore Tanyi Mubang of Tampa and freshmen Nicolas Olvera from Miami and Andrew McInnis of Mandeville, La., look to add punch to the Badgers "up top." The midfield reserves include junior Stephen Ray of Panama City, Fla., sophomore Eric Schwing of Mandeville, freshman Seth Hagan of Covington, La., and freshman Grant Quinlan of New Iberia, La. On defense, sophomore Sam Keiser of Athens, Ala., will lead a group of five freshmen in Arturo Garcia from Guayaquil, Nick De Felice of Chicago, Ill., Lloyd Mohney of Peachtree City, Ga., Terence Hinton of Mobile's Daphne High School and Samuel Grace of New Orleans.
With five Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) teams ranked in the NAIA Preseason Top 25, the 2012 schedule will be another tough trek for Spring Hill, but Brooks is not intimidated by the high rankings. "Last year four SSAC teams went to the NAIA National Championship Tournament and AUM, who could have been a Final 16 team, was left out," he says. "That just shows how tough this conference is. As coaches, we like the challenge, but more importantly, our players now love the challenge of playing that caliber of talent."
Spring Hill opens the 2012 season at non-conference foe Wiley College in Longview, Texas, with a rare Saturday-Sunday set beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.