151-102-14 (.592) record since 2001
2015 record: 4-13-0 overall, 1-6 Iowa Conference (seventh place)
Starters lost: 1 (Jeremy Dolder)
Starters returning: 10 (Calvin Bill, Zach Butters, Josh Carpenter, Logan Hoefer, Bryce Leonard, Adelmo Marchiori IV, Miguel Pina, EJ Schroeder, Owen Shawgo, Salvador Villanueva,)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 10/16
Returning all-conference players: 0
The emergence of some experienced upper class players as a new veteran leadership core has set the Central College men’s soccer program on a new path.
With just two seniors in the program last season, underclassmen were pressed into greater roles. The inexperience led to a disappointing 4-13 record.
“The challenges we’ve faced will make us stronger in the long run,” coach Garry Laidlaw said. “We took some lumps and bumps. I hope having gone through those experiences will help us this season."
A five-man senior class that has started nearly a combined 100 games in three years is bolstered by seven juniors, all with significant game action. In total, Central returns 10 starters and 16 letterwinners from 2015.
“Where leadership might have been somewhat of a void the last two years, I think we have much more of it this year,” Laidlaw said.
Coming off a seventh-place finish in 2015 that ended a 13-year run of Iowa Conference tournament qualifiers, Laidlaw is confident the Dutch are trending up in 2016.
“We spent a number of years challenging at the top of this league,” Laidlaw said. “We’re hungry to get back to that point and we feel we are turning the corner.”
Senior Josh Carpenter will handle the majority of the goalkeeping duties in 2016 after starting 14 of 17 games last season. He recorded 68 saves and earned a pair of shutout victories.
“We’re certainly looking for him lead from that position,” Laidlaw said. “He was in a tight battle for playing time las year, but we felt he earned the top spot as the season progressed.”
After a one-year hiatus, senior Ben Robertson returns to back up Carpenter. A reserve goalie in 2013 and 2014, Robertson is ready to contribute after a semester abroad through Central College’s international studies program.
“Ben’s hungry but he also understands his role,” Laidlaw said. “He’s a natural leader who knows how to bring people together."
With three of four starters and several prominent substitutes returning, the defensive back line could be a strength for the Dutch according to Laidlaw.
“It’s obviously nice to know you’ve got that kind of depth and experience in the back,” he said. “With all of the experienced returning players, everyone is going to be benefit.”
Selected as the team’s MVP the last two seasons, senior defender Adelmo Marchiori IV is focused on getting the program over the hump in his final go-round.
“Adelmo has the heart of a lion,” Laidlaw said. “It’s been extremely frustrating for him to not achieve what we hoped as a team. His desire to succeed has always been there.”
In addition to being teammates, seniors EJ Schroeder and Owen Shawgo are great friends off the field. According to Laidlaw, their friendship contributes to success on the pitch as well.
“I think it certainly helps their continuity and communications in the back,” he said. “They’ve both played a tremendous amount of minutes in their careers here and we see this as a real plus coming into this season.”
Juniors Zach Butters and Calvin Bill will start the season on the defensive end, but are also viable options in the midfield. Their coach said they’ve really stepped up on and off the field.
“I think we’ve got some real emerging leaders there,” Laidlaw said. “They’re excited about becoming upperclassmen and they understand the work which is required in order to compete in this league.”
An injury slowed Kiel Pederson in the second half of his freshman season. Fully healthy, he’s hoping for a breakout sophomore year.
“He times his tackles as well and gives us options going forward,” Laidlaw said. “He was one of our more accomplished freshmen coming in and didn’t disappoint.”
Midfielder Salvador Villanueva knocked home six goals in his first two years in the program, including three game-winners. Now a junior, an expanded role awaits Villanueva.
“He’s clearly one of our more creative players,” Laidlaw said. “He can score, but he can also create chances for other players. His movement and his deceptiveness are very effective.”
Injuries derailed a promising career start for Miguel Pina, who still managed two goals and one assist in 13 games. Laidlaw is optimistic that a healthy season will produce big results.
“If he stays healthy, I think we have a real classy player,” he said. “His abundant talent was pretty clear last season when he was on the field.”
Josh Phillips and Logan Hoefer made solid debuts in 2015 but both will be looked at for increased production as sophomores.
“Josh was a pleasant surprise last year,” Laidlaw said. “We didn’t know as much about him coming in, but he was probably one of our more impressive freshmen. Logan is just starting to tap into his creative potential as a player. I think we’re going to see a more confident player in his second year.”
Laidlaw refers to junior Andrew McMillan as the team’s fifth coach, and plans to utilize his unique skill set.
“Andrew was born to be a coach,” he said. “When he’s not in the game, he’s coaching from the bench and those on the bench. We really appreciate that. We’d like to see him earn more time on the field and we feel he’s ready for the challenge.”
Juniors Josh Prokupek and Seth Signs played a fair amount of minutes in the midfield last season and are capable of even more this year.
“Josh brings us great effort and he can score goals,” Laidlaw said. “We know he has it in him, we just need to see it more consistently. Seth needs to utilize his strengths and play within our structure. We know we’ll get great endeavor on the pitch, he just needs to keep the game simple.”
Sophomore Jose Suarez will also compete for a spot in midfield.
Some position changes on the roster leads to a brand-new crop of forwards for the Dutch.
Bryce Leonard scored five goals a year ago while primarily playing in the midfield. Laidlaw hopes a switch to playing up top will spark an offensive explosion.
“The thing about Bryce is some of his goals are of the spectacular fashion,” he said. “He has the creativity and ability to finish and we have an opportunity to serve him better up front.”
Supporting Leonard will be Aroni Niyakiza who is also moving up from the midfield for his sophomore campaign.
“He holds the ball up really well,” Laidlaw said. “He can take people on and score goals, too.”
An incoming freshman class of 10 players from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin gives Laidlaw weapons to use at every spot on the pitch.
“We think we’ve added some real quality to the group,” Laidlaw said. “Our more experienced players will need to look after them as they transition to the college game.”
Several familiar faces return to the Central sideline this year as part of a new-look coaching staff. An assistant since 2012, Will Foskett has moved up to be Laidlaw’s top lieutenant as a full-time coach. Greg Walter, an assistant in 2012-13, returns to coach the goalkeepers while former player Zach Jensen, a 2013 grad, comes aboard as a volunteer assistant.
“I’m really excited about what we’ve been able to do with the staffing model,” Laidlaw said. “We feel this will provide us with the type of organizational structure which is needed to be competitive in the Iowa Conference.”
The Dutch are tasked with some new challenges on their nine-game non-conference slate. Matches against programs like Crown (Minn.), Olivet (Mich.) and Principia (Ill.) are first-ever meetings between the schools.
“We’re looking forward to playing some different teams,” Laidlaw said. “It’s nice to play some new teams that maybe play with some different styles.”
Eight consecutive Iowa Conference matches close out the season, highlighted by a trip to last year’s Division III runner-up Loras and a visit from league newcomer Nebraska Wesleyan.
“The Iowa Conference has established itself as one of the most competitive conferences in the nation,” Laidlaw said. “Adding a team like Nebraska Wesleyan only enhances that profile.”
Central’s season opener is September 3 at Alma (Mich.).