WINONA LAKE – After an impressive 2012 campaign that saw Grace’s men’s soccer team earn its most victories since 1994 (13-7-3), the Lancers are set to challenge for the Crossroads League title this fall.
With a talented selection of midfielders at his disposal and an improving defense, head coach Matt Hotchkin is confident in the caliber of his squad.
Grace returns 92 percent of its scoring from last season’s third-place finish, including the 2012 CL Offensive Player of the Year Steven Fiema (14 goals, 7 assists).
“We’re looking forward to a great year. The quality and overall skill level is better than it’s ever been during my time here,” Hotchkin said. “I think every unit on our team is the same or improved. The only major changes you’ll see are in defense.”
While sophomore forward Fiema headlines the team’s firepower, the Lancers have a wealth of scoring options on offense. Seniors Shane Barthuly and Devin Kemmerer are proven commodities, and junior Austin Altimus and sophomore Kyle Hamlin accounted for 11 goals last year.
Grace’s midfield may be the strongest it’s been in recent memory. Juniors Gift Sibukome, Trent Smith and Nikola Blazic have forged a tight connection in the middle over the past two years. They will be pushed for playing time by a deep, talented group that includes sophomore Bryce Glock and freshmen Sydney Ocran and Hector Torres among several others.
The primary question mark for the Lancers centers on the backfield. Grace must replace three starting members of its defense, including goalkeeper Collin Cone.
“We have high expectations for the amount of goals we’ll score. Goals will come because we have the speed and quality needed to score,” Hotchkin said. “But our defense has been our bread and butter the past few years, and it will be the most important part of our team this year.”
Hotchkin will lean on returners Ben Cahill (junior) and Justin Festa (sophomore) to anchor the center of Grace’s defense, and junior Jacob Cole seems ready to assume the goaltending duties in 2013. The outside defending roles can be filled by a number of incomers or by versatile returners Altimus and Ben Bassous.
With an explosive offense and a deep, experienced squad, the Lancers are hopeful for success this fall. The always-competitive Crossroads League will be a difficult challenge, but the team’s goal is “to be in the running for top team in the [league],” according to Hotchkin.
The Lancers open their season at home on Aug. 17 against Pikeville at 2 p.m. Grace will have a month of nonleague contests before kicking off the league portion of their schedule on Sept. 21.
“We want to play soccer that’s attractive and exciting with strong technical play combined with fast attacking soccer,” Hotchkin said. “We’ll do our best to represent the school in a way they can be proud of. While winning is important to this team, our ultimate goal is so much greater than that. We really want to be faithful men in the game of life, glorifying God in the process.”