Head coach Matt Hotchkin is hoping his team can build on last year’s success to compete for a title in the Crossroads League in 2012.
The Lancers fielded a young roster last year as two underclassmen (Austin Altimus, Shane Barthuly) led the team in scoring with 10 goals apiece. The majority of Grace’s starters return in 2012 and, along with several key role players, have bonded into what Hotchkin has called “the closest team we’ve had since I’ve been here at Grace.”
“Last year we were young. We had just enough leadership, but most people saw how young we were when we started five freshmen consistently,” Hotchkin said. “This year is the first team where I feel like everybody knows everyone else really well. We know our strengths and weaknesses, and we know how to best use each other. If we field a team who understands how to work together, then I do think we can compete for a league title.”
While forwards Altimus and Barthuly highlight the offensive side of the ball for Grace, they are just two of many goal-scoring weapons at Hotchkin’s disposal.
Grace’s midfield returns a number of players in sophomores Trent Smith, Gift Sibukome and Nikola Blazic and junior Devin Kemmerer. Sibukome (Zambia) and Blazic (Serbia) are both foreign-born players who have improved greatly after being in the US for an entire year.
“[Sibukome and Blazic] went through culture shock last year, which affected how they played. At the end of the year, we really felt the benefit of their play,” Hotchkin commented. “I think now they are fully adjusted, and we’ll continue to see better things out of both of those guys.”
While Grace’s defense was a major question mark entering last season, it became one of the strongest parts of the team with the outstanding play of goalkeeper Collin Cone (7 shutouts, 0.970 goals against per game).
Cone will be counting on seniors Sam Cole and Trenton Porter, sophomore Ben Cahill and junior Ben Bassous to provide resistance in front of the net. Bassous relocated to outside back in the offseason and has potential to be a “breakout player” for the Lancers, according to Hotchkin.
Grace’s recruiting class has high expectations as well with a versatile array of players. All-State performers Steven Fiema (Detroit, Mich.) and Kyle Hamlin (Tipp City, Ohio) should bring an immediate impact to Grace’s attack, and Chris Boudreau (Highlands Ranch, Colo.), Ben Draper (Detroit, Mich.), Justin Festa (Quakertown, Pa.) and Bryce Glock (Winona Lake, Ind.) hope to challenge for a spot in the lineup as well.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement over the past four years, and we’re thankful for every single person that comes out and shows excitement for what we’re doing,” Hotchkin continued. “We want to be an entertaining team that honors Grace College and the Lord in the way we play.”
The Lancers kick off the season with a four-game home stand, starting with the season opener against Bluefield College on Aug. 18.
Photo and information provided by the Grace College athletic department.