LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- In his sixth season at the helm of his alma mater, head coach Nathan Pifer believes he has his best team yet. The 2014 version of the Covenant men's soccer team features plenty of experienced players mixed in with newcomers looking to make an immediate impact.
The Scots open their season on Friday at the Sonny Carter Invitational in Atlanta, Georgia against traditional Division III power Rutgers-Newark.
The Scots were picked to finish fourth in the USA South's preseason poll, while receiving one first place vote. Last season, Covenant finished fourth in the regular season but had its season come to an early end in the USA South tournament first round with a loss to Averett in a shootout.
"We were picked to finish in the top five," said Pifer of his preseason ranking. "But I feel like we are going to be one of the top teams in the league. We are ready to compete for a conference championship."
Although the Scots lost four key seniors off last year's 11-5-4 team, they return 16 players and six starters, including all three of the top scorers, from a year ago. All told, Covenant will have nine seniors on its roster this season. In addition, Pifer picked up a couple players in his recruiting class that could play a major role early on.
Three seniors, Snoopy Davidson, Hudson Brock and Joel Friesen, scored six goals apiece last season and all three return this year. Although he battled an injury throughout the year in 2013, Davidson was still the biggest scoring threat for the Scots and was selected to the USA South All-Conference first team. The transfer from South Carolina accumulated six goals and five assists, which tied for the team lead, in 11 matches. Davidson had a stretch of five goals and three assists over three matches last year that propelled him to USA South and NSCAA player of the week honors.
"Snoopy was hurt for a majority of the season last year," noted Pifer. "We hope to have him completely healthy this season and are very excited about what he can do."
Brock and Friesen also return after breakout seasons a year ago. Brock started all 20 matches last season and registered his first career hat trick in a 5-0 win at LaGrange. Friesen tied for the team lead in points with 17 as he recorded six goals and five assists. Pifer also expects big things from junior Mike Arango. In his first season at Covenant last year, Arango scored four times and presented a threat to opponents with his speed and agility.
Defensively, the Scots look to be strong once again. Senior leader Hunter Harrison returns, as does his twin brother Russell Harrison, to go along with senior Roy Anderson on the backline. As a unit, Covenant allowed 23 goals with six shutouts in 2013. Hunter Harrison scored twice last season and was named to the NSCAA All-South Atlantic region third team.
The goalkeeper position will feature a new face this season as Shuler Polk has graduated. Three keepers are on the roster with junior Daniel Kubin having the most experience. Redshirt sophomore Jacob Richter and freshman Jonathan Crossman will also vie for playing time at the net this year.
The seniors are the leaders of this team and have been through a lot as a group during their time in Scots jerseys. "These are godly young men who want to play hard and glorify God at the same time," added Pifer. "The senior class has been this way consistently though their years here and it has been fun to be a part of."
Lookout Mountain natives highlight the incoming recruiting class for Pifer. Builder Brock, brother of Hudson, comes in as a senior and hopes to strengthen the backline even further. Hunter Brock, cousin of both Hudson and Builder, will "add speed and attacking ability," according to Pifer. Crossman was an All-State keeper at Chattanooga Christian and should compete for playing time. All three players call the Mountain home and have strong family ties to the college.
The entire freshman class includes Nate Mackey (Rutherfordton, N.C.), Andrew Jablon (Orlando, Fla.), Mark Sharrar (Garner, N.C.), Isaac Johnson (Madison, Ala.), John O'Carroll (Houston, Texas) and Morgan Copeland (Fredericksburg, Va.).
After a weekend trip to Atlanta, the Scots will open up the home portion of their schedule with the David Taaffe Invitational on Sept. 5-6. Four matches will take place over two days at Scotland Yard with the host Scots facing Wilmington on Friday at 7 p.m. and Millsaps on Saturday at 7 p.m.