As the Valparaiso Crusaders kick-off the 2002 season, the program will celebrate their 20th anniversary as a varsity sport.
The Crusaders are looking to improve on last season's 6-10-1 record, along with climbing the Mid-Continent Conference standings. Valpo will look to return to the Mid-Con Tournament for the first time since the Brown and Gold hosted the event in 1998.
Head coach Mis' Mrak returns ten letterwinners for his 12th season at the helm of the Crusaders, including six starters from one year ago. Combining the experience that returns along with the new talent that has been recruited for the 2002 season will be Mrak's challenge as the season unfolds.
In goal, senior Marc Cilfone returns after having an impressive season in 2001. Cilfone played every minute between the pipes for the Brown and Gold, registering a 1.96 goals against average and one shutout. The tri-captain tore his ACL during the spring season, and has battled back from the knee surgery in order to compete this fall.
Depth in goal should not be a problem for Mrak. Sophomore Brandon Aylward was Cilfone's backup last season and the starting keeper for the reserve team. Junior Andrew Remenschneider filled in between the pipes during the spring season, showing potential after being converted from a defender, while freshman Jeff Oleck is ready to step in as well. Oleck is a 6'4" keeper that led his high school team to an undefeated season.
On defense, senior Jon Flugstad looks to lead a young and inexperienced defensive corps. The tri-captain started 16 matches as a junior, and scored his first career goal in 2001, while dishing out a pair of assists from the backline.
Josh Peacher will look to aid Flugstad in the defensive third of the field for the Brown and Gold. The junior appeared in 14 matches in each of his first two seasons, and has 11 career starts. Oliver Sanders is the only other returning Crusader defender who has seen significant playing time. A junior, Sanders has started 30 matches in his career in the defensive midfield. He has shown the ability to score goals, as he was second on the team in scoring as a freshman with four tallies.
James Flugstad is the only other defensive returnee who has seen action on the varsity field, appearing in two matches as a freshman. Jon's younger brother will look to find a place in the line-up beside his brother this season. Mrak will need to have several of his younger players step up on defense if the Brown and Gold is going to compete in the Mid-Con this season. Freshmen Chris Butler, Sean Finnerty, Chris Goss, John Groff, Nate Hyde, Phillip Johnson, and Shea Pepper will all battle for playing time on the defensive half of the field, along with senior Brian Hirth.
While Valpo returns an experienced frontline, the Crusaders will need to replace the scoring of Scott Daly, a First Team All Mid-Continent Conference selection last season. Daly accounted for half of the Crusaders 22 goals in 2001.
The Crusaders return three senior attackers that have seen a great deal of playing time for the Brown and Gold. Tri-captain Billy Wanecke has eight career goals along with a pair of assists. Classmate Ben Olson also looks to be a force at forward for the Crusaders. Olson led the team as a sophomore with five goals and was second last season adding three more. Ryan Wolin is the third returning senior attacker. Wolin has started over half of the matches in which he has appeared in during his career, and will look for his experience to help lead the team.
Adam Newell is the lone junior attacker for the Brown and Gold. An offensive midfielder, Newell will look to help the Crusader transition game and start offensive attacks.
A trio of sophomores will look to use their experience from their rookie year to assist the team in 2002. Mark Korba scored three goals and added an assist as a freshman, while Mickey Miller II and Owen Hoyt each saw the field as well.
Freshmen Ethan Adams, Nathan Balfanz, Justin Erny, and Ken Melotte, along with senior Amir Tahmassebi will compete for action on the field as well.
Valpo's schedule will once again prove to be challenging. The Crusaders open on August 30 at the Air Force Invitational against Denver. Their Eastgate Field opener will occur on September 8 against Evansville, followed by a visit from Wisconsin. In addition to the Mid-Con schedule, Valpo will travel to Big Ten foes Michigan State and Northwestern as part of their 16-match regular season schedule.