As the Valparaiso University men's soccer team opens its 2004 season, the Crusaders will look to put the ball in the net more than they were able to during the 2003 campaign.
Head coach Mis' Mrak returns for his 14th season at the helm of the Brown and Gold, and will look for Valpo to improve upon its 2-13-2 mark overall last year and 1-6 record in Mid-Continent Conference play. The Crusaders finished sixth in the conference standings.
A trio of seniors will look to lead the way for Valpo when the season opens. Mark Korba has scored nine career markers during his first three seasons with the Brown and Gold, and will look to spearhead the offense again this year. Classmate Owen Hoyt scored twice for the Crusaders in 2003, tying for the team lead. He will again look to find the back of the net and provide support up top. Mickey Miller II is the third returning senior for the Brown and Gold. Playing out of the midfield, Miller is instrumental in distributing the ball while helping on both ends of the field.
Valpo's junior class has just as much talent as the seniors. Jeff Oleck returns in goal for the Crusaders. He has played over 2,900 minutes in goal in two years and recorded seven shutouts. A Second Team All Mid-Con selection as a freshman, he looks to return to that same form as a junior.
Nate Hyde has been a mainstay on the Crusaders' defense since he arrived at Valpo. The junior will again look to anchor the backline along with classmate Nate Balfanz as the season opens. Tim Bowington looks for his first action with the Brown and Gold after missing last season with an injury. The transfer still has two years of eligibility remaining and looks to make an impact on the Valpo defense this year.
A large sophomore contingent looks to add strength to the Valpo roster after a year's experience. Chris Goss had a solid season in 2003 scoring a goal and adding an assist after sitting out 2002 as a red-shirt. He joins classmates Henrik Turk, John Allendorf, and Mark Wolka looking to strengthen the Crusaders' defense.
Offensively, a host of sophomores return and look to add some fire power to the Valpo attack. Jon Brighton recorder a pair of tallies for the Brown and Gold last season, while Jeremy Stacy dished out a pair of assists. Brad Johnson and J.J. Eschenburg will also vie for time offensively for the Crusaders in the attacking half. Valpo gains the services of D.J. Catrow in the offensive end as well. Catrow arrives after having played for Ohio State last season.
In goal, sophomore Andrew Gensch and freshman Sean McGinnis will look to back up Oleck. McGinnis sat out last season as a red-shirt.
Offense will be a main key for the Crusaders in 2004, as the Brown and Gold managed just ten goals in 17 matches last season. Despite the lack of offense, Valpo dropped four matches by just one goal.
The schedule for the Crusaders is a difficult one in 2004. Valpo opens with four of their first five matches at home before taking to the road for seven straight contests in late September and early October.
The season kicks off September 1 when Oregon State visits Eastgate Field. The Crusaders also open Mid-Continent Conference play at home on September 10 when Oral Roberts comes to town. Valpo will also host IUPUI and Oakland in league play this season. The Oakland match ends the regular season for the Brown and Gold on November 7.
Visits from Ohio State, Detroit, Butler, and Saint Joseph's (Ind.) also highlight the Crusaders' non-conference campaign at Eastgate Field. A road trip to Michigan State concludes a tough out of league schedule in early November.
The Mid-Continent Conference Tournament is set for November 12 and 14 in Macomb, Ill. this season and the tough regular season slate should help the Brown and Gold prepare for the postseason.
With a roster full of returnees, Mrak's squad should know one another heading into the season as opposed to trying to incorporate new additions to the roster this year. If the Crusaders can find a way to put the ball in the back of the net and the defense can stand strong throughout the year, Valparaiso will be headed for a successful 2004 campaign.