As Alma College Men's Soccer Head Coach Josh Oakley enters his third season at the helm of the Scots, he is optimistic that noticeable improvement is on the horizon. However, it won't be easy as the 2012 team will again be very young with many new faces that will need to contribute.
"I expect a very young, green team and we are excited to get the season going," said Oakley. "We are going to have a lot of freshmen and sophomores in our group of 35, and although I expect some mistakes with the group, I also expect a great youthful energy."
When Alma opens up the season on September 1 against Greenville at Defiance, the team will hit the pitch with just three seniors and two juniors and those players will be looked to for maturity and leadership. The teams ahead of the Scots in the MIAA standings certainly have more experience and Oakley knows that it will take time.
"As much as we want to push the maturation level of the younger players, there is a huge difference between an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old," said Oakley. "Saying that, I believe it is a wide open league. For a team like us to make a move from seventh or eighth place to the top four will take quite an effort and hard work. I do believe it is possible for us."
Alma's improvement in 2012 has to begin with offense, as the Scots scored just eight goals in the 2011 season. Much of the recruiting for this season focused on the offensive side of the field and the season will be dictated by how the youngsters improve.
"Offensively, we will be looking at a lot of rookies," said Oakley. "Goal scoring has been a huge weak point for this program for a long time. We have some gifted goal scorers coming in but we do not have great size up front. We will have to rely on our athleticism and quickness."
Oakley is excited about the ability to get offensive production out of their wide play and believes this is the most talented group he has had in this area. Names that he highlights going into the season include Mateo Capicchioni, Matt Sovis, Connor Pace, Zach Vandeveer and Aaron Bender.
Defensively, it starts with the goalkeeping for the Scots with returning players Graham Wallace and Brett Galloway. On the recruiting front, the Scots did not bring in a lot of players, but that does not mean they won't be a young group. Freshman Ryan Schoonover is one newcomer that Oakley is looking to and four other defenders will be second-year players.
"I believe our goalkeeping is solid and with the experience that Graham is coming back with really opens the door for this to be his year," said Oakley. "Brett is another one that played six games for us last year and he will be pushing for more playing time. Our defenders are going to be young, but we are excited about their potential."
Seniors Matt Kuberski and Tyler Hendershot are co-captains for the season and Oakley expects improved leadership from the pair. Oakley expects both of them to be on the field a great deal and will be looking for both of them to make a big difference in leading the young squad.
Oakley took his squad to Toronto for a team bonding trip at the very beginning of camp. The purpose of the trip was simply get to know each other and the team was able to tour Toronto FC and watch a team practice. The team will play six non-league games in preparation of the MIAA schedule and it is the toughest slate for the Scots in some time.
"Our non-league schedule is tough as we wanted to design it with teams that would push us to get better," said Oakley. "The MIAA beats you up every single game and we need to be ready. Last year we played two less than the possible six but this year we are playing all six to get ready for the league. One game that stands out is against Benedictine in Chicago as they are a team comparable to us and are in an area that we are actively recruiting."