The 2017 season is a new beginning for the Case Western Reserve University men's soccer team. The Spartans are returning this season with a strong group of upperclassmen and a talented recruiting class to make a statement in the University Athletic Association.
Overall, 20 players return, including eight starters and an additional seven players who started at least one match in 2016.
"I thought last year the team showed in some big moments that we're capable of playing with anyone in the country," said Head Coach Brandon Bianco. "We were in every game we played in last year, and this year our success will come from building upon our experience in those tight games."
The Spartans finished at 5-9-4 last season, including six opponents throughout the year that were nationally ranked at the time of the contest. CWRU also played eight teams during the 2016 season that went on to qualify for the Division III NCAA Championship Tournament.
One of the highlights of the year for CWRU was a 1-0 overtime win against then second-ranked Kenyon College on September 27th. The win marked the highest-ranked opponent defeated by the Spartan men's soccer team in program history.
Headlining Bianco's roster is first-team All-UAA senior goalkeeper Calvin Boyle, who earned UAA Defensive Athlete of the Week on September 26th and October 3rd. The Spartans ended the year ranked 21st in save percentage (.843) and 87th in shutout percentage (.39) in all of Division III, while Boyle posted five shutouts during the season.
"We have high expectations for Calvin, but also from all of our seniors and junior players, specifically," said Bianco. "Good teams are well led and leadership needs to be the collective responsibility of our older players. They need to show the way, enjoy and celebrate our successes, and also provide leadership when we have adversity. The standards they set for the group will be our roadmap."
On the front line, the team will feature seniors Michael Balog and Alex Keller-Biehl as well as junior Jake Micham. Balog scored one goal and added two assists for four points in 17 starts last season, while Keller-Biehl played in 15 games, including one in a starting role, scoring one goal and assisting on another.
The midfield is loaded with experience, with the likes of returning juniors Paul Darmstadter, Jacob Phillips, Josh Wargo, and Brady Daulton, and sophomores Marques Manta, Chas Novitsky, Garrett Winter and Brian Woo.
Darmstadter started 10 games and tallied two goals and one assist for five points, while Wargo played in all 18 games, scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winning goal against Kenyon College on September 27th. Manta registered three points on one goal and one assist.
The defense will feature senior Jack Rademacher, who played in all 18 games and made 17 starts last season. In addition to Rademacher, the defense is set to return juniors Alex Besl, Reed Kurtenbach and Christian Lytle, and sophomores Nicholas Bertrand, Taylor Hosley and Kyle Lewis.
Besl saw action in 15 contests, including 14 starts, while Kurtenbach and Lytle each appeared in 14 and 12 matches, respectively.
Along with Boyle in the net, the team returns senior goalkeeper Christian Grimme, who has appeared in 10 games and started seven during his first three years as a Spartan.
In addition to the returners, the Spartans are set to welcome 9 freshmen and one sophomore to the team, including goalkeeper Andrew Engelmeyer, defenders Alex Gallo and Nathan Ekberg, forward Seldon Magruder and midfielders Maximillian Klemm, Trevor Veenstra, Nevo Ziv, Zachary Senft, Matt DePeppe and Connor Weber.
"We will have good depth this year and lot of options in all lines of the field," said Bianco. "Our freshman have come in and made a nice impression, which will push the group even more. Especially early, our depth will have to be something we lean on as we build up our match fitness."
The Spartans open the season with five of their first six matches at home, including the home opener against the University of Mount Union at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, September 1, and a road contest at DePauw University on September 3, which received votes in the NSCAA Division III Preseason Poll. The team will then be on the road for two of its next three games, including a key away in-region match against fifth-ranked Kenyon College at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 27.
"Getting off to a good start must be a priority for us," said Bianco. "Doing so will just require us focusing on our individual and collective goals for each game and our preparation."
The UAA portion of the schedule, which features three nationally-ranked teams in the NSCAA Preseason Poll, begins at home with a Sunday, October 1 match-up against fourth-ranked Brandeis University. Following a non-conference match against Oberlin College on October 4 at DiSanto Field, the Spartans play a crucial three-match stretch on the road at New York University, Washington University (Mo.) and ninth-ranked University of Chicago.
"The UAA schedule will always be an exciting challenge," said Bianco. "We'll have four of our seven UAA games at home, and 12 overall, which I know our guys are excited about."
The regular season will wrap up with four-straight matches at home, including the final match of the regular season against 20th-ranked Carnegie Mellon University on November 4.
"The goal in November is always to be better than where we began in August," said Bianco. "This group will choose to be as good as they want to be and if we decide to get better every day then by November, things will take care of itself."