LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- A year after climbing all the way to the top of the USA South, the Covenant men's soccer team will open its defense of the conference when they begin the 2015 season on Sept. 1 at home against Sewanee.
Defending a conference championship is never an easy task, but seventh-year head coach Nathan Pifer saw 10 players graduate from last year's team that went 15-5-2 and narrowly missed an NCAA Tournament victory.
"This year is going to be a challenge, but we're excited about that," said Pifer, who is 71-44-12 in his first six years at the helm of his alma mater. "You tend to push yourself a little harder when presented challenges like this. We know what it takes to reach the top."
One of the keys to success again this year will be on the offensive side. The Scots lost nearly 63 percent of its scoring from a year ago, mostly from USA South Player of the Year Snoopy Davidson. Pifer realizes the tall task in replacing a player like Davidson, but notes that several players on the squad could pick up the scoring.
"Noah Wiersema and Mike Arango are two guys that can put the ball in the net," Pifer said. "Mix those two in with a few newcomers and I think we'll have a chance. We may just have to grind out a few more matches this year than in the past."
Seniors Wiersema and Arango are the two leaders up front. Both players netted three goals and had four assists last season to help lead the Scots to a conference championship. Senior Bryce Bartelt has goal scoring ability as well and could see significant playing time.
Defensively, the Scots are strong once again. All-USA South goalkeeper Daniel Kubin returns after recording a goals against average of 0.74 in his junior year. Kubin will get help on the back line from key returners in seniors Andrew Lowe, Russell Harrison and junior Tim Love. Harrison is a team captain this season.
"Kubin had a great junior year and those three returners in the backfield are seasoned and experienced players," Pifer said. "We are a pretty solid defensive team and that is going to keep us in matches this year."
Outside of goal scoring, one of the other question marks entering camp was the play in the midfield. Covenant graduated several key players in the midfield after last year, but again Pifer is confident in the group he has coming in.
"We lost a big crew there in the middle, but the guys we have to fill those spots are solid," added Pifer. "This will be a key area for us this season. We need to be able to win the ball and distribute from those positions."
With so many departures from last season, it opened the door for a plethora of newcomers. 13 players will be competing on varsity for the first time. Of those 13, seven are freshmen. "All those guys are good and can make an impact within this program," said Pifer of his recruiting class.
Two players who could have the biggest impact are freshmen Tyler Johnson and Josiah McDaniel. The tandem were teammates at Faith Christian School in Anniston, Ala., and McDaniel's father played soccer at Covenant from 1991-94. Johnson could also be in the mix in the midfield, while McDaniel adds to the options on the offensive end.
"Tyler and Josiah are very strong players that could push for a starting spot," Pifer said. "Those aren't the only guys, though, as others have talent and can make an impact this year."
Other freshmen include; Johnny Underkoffler, Ethan Pettit, Aaron Melton, Christopher Kitchen and Carl Simakoff. The rest of the newcomers are: sophomores Henry Paris, Micah Masters, Chase Waller and Stephen Sutherland.
Coming off a conference tournament title, Covenant was picked to finish third in the USA South preseason poll but received two first place votes in the highly competitive league.
"The USA South is a strong league again this year with some good teams at the top," noted Pifer. "Methodist [the preseason favorite in the USA South] might be the best team, but this league is very competitive."
Pifer and his staff knows 2015 will look different than the past few years, but they still expect the Scots to be contenders in the USA South.
"Overall, it's going to be a challenging year with a young team. But these guys will have fun meeting those challenges and playing well."
Covenant opens the 2015 campaign on Sept. 1 with a home match against Sewanee at 7 p.m., or 30 minutes after the women's match vs. Berry concludes.
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