LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- As the summer months begin to wind down toward fall, so begins another season of Covenant men's soccer. The program, under fifth year head coach Nathan Pifer, looks to have one of its best seasons since Pifer's arrival.
There is also change in the program as Covenant heads into its first season as members of the USA South Athletic Conference and full-fledged active members of NCAA Division III. After four years of being ineligible for conference championships and NCAA postseason opportunities, Covenant is hoping to take full advantage of its new status.
Even with the new excitement and opportunities around the program, a summer tragedy lingers in the hearts of all Scots both inside and outside the men's soccer program. In July, rising junior David Taaffe passed away after suffering injuries in a fall during a hiking trip in Switzerland. Taaffe was 20 years old.
The team plans to dedicate the season in memory of Taaffe. The team's first home match of the year on September 3 against Sewanee will be tabbed as "David Taaffe Night" as the team honors its teammate and brother.
"I am excited for the team as we dedicate this season to the memory of our brother and teammate David Taaffe and compete for a championship," said Pifer.
Competing for a championship is top priority for the Scots. The USA South coaches picked Covenant to finish fifth in the 10-team league this season.
The talent on the roster certainly warrants such a high ranking. Seniors Matt Hudnut, Garrison Dale and Shuler Polk return to lead the team along with 17 returners overall, including five starters.
Hudnut, a St. Louis, Mo., native, is the team's leading returning goal scorer as he tallied eight last season. The midfielder is known not only by his full beard and long hair, but also his flair for the dramatic as he has notched seven game-winning goals over the last two seasons, including four in overtime periods. Hudnut has 14 goals in his career and was named NCCAA Player of the Week once last season.
After scoring a career-high six goals last season, Dale is the second leading scorer returning in 2013. The senior from Statesville, N.C., scored two of his goals in Covenant's 2-0 victory at Maryville last season. Polk, a Greenville, S.C. native, made the most of his first season of holding the starting job as keeper. The senior, who recently got married, made 98 saves and had four shutouts as a junior and was named to the NCCAA Mid-East all-region squad.
Also returning is a solid back line with juniors Roy Anderson, Hunter Harrison and Hudson Brock. Anderson started 17 matches last year and had two assists to go along with his defensive work. Harrison was an NCCAA Mid-East all-region selection in 2012 as his rugged play secured the back line and he also added a pair of goals. Brock was named NCCAA Player of the Week in late October last season after netting a game-winning score at Huntingdon. Together, the three players saw action in all but five matches in 2012.
The Scots also hope to get a boost from redshirt sophomore Gordon Carpenter. Carpenter sat out all of last season with an injury but the fleet-footed 5-foot-7 midfielder is healthy again and ready to see the field.
Pifer has also added several newcomers that could see immediate action and play a major role on the team. Two NCAA Division I transfers in Snoopy Davidson (South Carolina) and Alex Lupinek (Lipscomb) along with NCAA Division III transfer Michael Arango (Gettysburg) highlight the recruiting class.
"All three guys should have an impact immediately," said Pifer of his transfers. "Davidson and Arango should boost the scoring end of things for us."
Davidson, younger brother of former Covenant player Hunt Davidson, recorded four goals and two assists in two seasons as a Gamecock while playing in nearly every match in both years. Lupinek and Arango each spent one season at their previous school before deciding to transfer.
Pifer also noted that a more traditional newcomer in freshman Jonathan Blackmon heads up a "strong freshmen recruiting class." Blackmon comes to Covenant from Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, Ala., where he helped lead his team to a state championship and was nominated for Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior.
In order to make a championship run this season, the Scots will have to make their way through a difficult conference and non-conference schedule. Non-conference tilts include Birmingham Southern, Emory, Hanover and Transylvania, among others. Inside the USA South slate, Covenant will host the preseason favorite Methodist and preseason third pick North Carolina Wesleyan over Homecoming weekend on October 11-12.
Added Pifer, "Our history with these teams has been good and we feel that we will be competitive enough to have a chance at winning a conference championship. We know there are no easy games and we will prepare for that challenge."
There is a lot to look forward to from the Scots in 2013 as the program moves into a new chapter in its history.
All home matches this season will feature live stats through this link. Live video will also be made available, please check the schedule page for links.
Covenant opens its season on Friday with a match at Tennessee Temple at 7 p.m. in Chattanooga.