LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Youth is aplenty for the Covenant men's soccer team in 2016. The Scots return 12 players from last season's 5-11-2 team, but head coach Nathan Pifer has revamped the roster with 12 newcomers.
The 2016 season opens up on Thursday with a match against regional rival Berry. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Scotland Yard.
For Pifer and his coaching staff, the key heading into the season is meshing the group of talented freshmen with the returning players. "It might take a little time for the team to work on its chemistry together, but we have a talented group of freshmen that will help a lot," Pifer said. "But I'm very excited about the team we have this year."
Covenant returns four starters off last year's team including juniors Nate Mackey and John O'Carroll, along with sophomores Carl Simakoff and Ethan Pettit. Mackey, Simakoff and Pettit were all strong players in the midfield, while O'Carroll took hold of a spot along the back line.
The top returning goal scorer for the Scots is junior Isaac Johnson, who was second on the team with four goals in 2015. At the net, junior Jonathan Crossman is the only returner at the position after playing in five games, making one start, last season.
Other returners include midfielders in juniors Joseph Franks and Henry Paris, sophomore Jonathan Barrett, along with the return of Caleb Allen who sat out all of last season with an injury. Junior Mark Sharrar and sophomore Christopher Kitchen return along the defensive side, while Josiah McDaniel is the lone returning forward.
One thing that Covenant lacks is a senior, but Pifer likes the leadership roles he has with his group of upperclassmen.
"I'm looking for leadership out of that group, especially with no seniors on the team," Pifer said. "Nate Mackey is the team captain and has really done a good job since taking over that role. Just looking for good leadership from the group and helping the young guys stay patient and focused."
Leading the large group of freshmen is high school All-American Josh Brower. A product out of Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, Ala., Brower collected NSCAA All-America honors after tallying 34 goals and 20 assists in his senior year and looks to make a big impact right away for the Scots.
"Josh is a strong player who knows how to score," Pifer said. "We're very excited about his potential."
However, Brower is not the only jewel in the class. Fellow forward Anthony Buzzeo (Knoxville, Tenn./CAK) also brings goal-scoring ability to the team. TJ Munzel (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood) looks to make an impact in the midfield, while Matt Morefield (Overland Park, Kan./Olathe Northwest) will add a presence along the back line.
At keeper, Paul Lemay (Apopka, Fla./Circle Christian) and Wil Jackson (Rocky Face, Ga./Christian Heritage) look to challenge for playing time. Lemay, the older brother of women's soccer keeper Rachel Lemay, brings more experience to the team than most freshman as he begins his college career as a 22-year old.
Other freshmen include: David Miller (Suffolk, Va./Nansemond River), Connor McGimsey (Manchaca, Texas/Regents School of Austin), Jesse Riggs (Chesapeake, Va./Hickory), Colby Pepper (Mechanicsburg, Pa./West Shore Christian Academy), Caleb Bureau (Virginia Beach, Va./Norfolk Christian) and Seth Robinson (Augusta, Ga./Westminster Schools of Augusta).
Covenant will have its hands full with another challenging set of non-conference matches, including tilts with Birmingham Southern, Millsaps and Emory, before heading into league play.
The USA South looks to be a strong conference once again as Greensboro and Methodist topped the preseason poll, while Maryville also returns a quality squad. Covenant was picked sixth in the poll, but Pifer knows his team will have to relish the role as the underdog.
"We look forward to the challenge of being the underdog," Pifer said. "The top teams will be strong and we'll have to be ready for them. Covenant teams are going to work hard and these young men want to continue that tradition this year."
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