For the senior class of 2006, last season brought a first taste of postseason play. This year, they're hungry for more.
After back-to-back seasons watching the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament from the outside, the seven 2006 seniors guided the Crusaders to a 3-2-1 league mark in 2005 and a first trip to the conference's premier event since 2002. With their top five scorers back, the Brown and Gold have the pieces in place to build on that success in 2006.
The single biggest change from 2005 to 2006 for the Crusaders is between the pipes where record-setting keeper Jeff Oleck stood strong over the past four seasons.
The man most looked to this season to fill the void will be junior Sean McGinnis
who's waited patiently behind Oleck for two seasons. McGinnis started five matches in 2005 and was sharp in a reserve role, allowing only six goals in 470:00.
Along with McGinnis, 6'4" freshman Ryan Schwarz
will compete for time in goal after leading Rockford's Boylan Catholic High School to a runner-up finish in the 2005 Illinois State Tournament.
A record-breaking unit and the core of Valpo's 2005 resurgence was the defense. Allowing only 29 goals (the fewest since 1987) and posting a school-record six shutouts, the backline shut down some of the league's toughest players and kept the Crusaders within two goals in every match.
, the team's Most Valuable Player and the anchor of the 2005 defense, is back for his junior year and looking for a repeat of his 2005 Second Team All-Conference season.
The experienced group will also return senior Henrik Turk
who started 12 of the final 14 matches of 2005 and has drawn 27 starting assignments in his three-year career.
A pair of sophomores, Andrew Stewart
and Brett Bermes
, are also back for the Crusader defense after making big impacts as rookies.
New to the group are a pair of talented defenders, led by sophomore Clifton Brown
who moves to the backline after scoring three goals and starting nine times as a freshman midfielder.
, a freshman from Troy, Mich., also joins the group after leading Troy High School to a State Championship in 2005.
A young but experienced midfield for the Crusaders is led in 2006 by the most experienced player on the team. Jeremy Stacy
, who has played in all 53 matches since stepping on the Valpo campus in 2003, is back for his senior campaign.
Beyond Stacy, it's record-setting sophomore Paul Leitelt
who brings the best pedigree after scoring four goals and tallying nine points in his rookie campaign.
Fellow sophomore Yuuki Guzmán
and junior Greg Gibson
will also see increased playing time in the midfield along with freshman Joel Wagner
Two of the most prolific scorers in Valpo history are also back for their senior seasons after leading the Crusaders to 27 goals in 2005, the highest team total in seven years.
, a two-time All-Conference star, leads the talented bevy of forwards. Catrow led the Brown and Gold in goals, assists and points last year and was named the team's Offensive Most Valuable Player.
Senior Jon Brighton
, Catrow's attacking partner for the last two seasons is looking for a third straight five-goal season. Brighton's 12 career goals lead all returnees and sit him just outside Valpo's career top 10 list.
Three other seniors will also be counted on up front, including New Mexico native J.J. Eschenburg
who scored the first three goals of his career in 2005. John Allendorf
and Mark Wolka
also return with three years of experience under their belts.
Joining the group in 2006 is freshman Steve Shivley
who led North Central High School to an Indiana State Championship last year.
With nine home matches on the slate, including seven of the season's first 10 matches, the Crusaders will have ample opportunity to defend Eastgate Field and enjoy all the comforts of home.
After season-opening home contests against DePaul and Evansville, the Brown and Gold will pack their bags for California and the Copa de Causeway Tournament.
The scene then shifts back to Valparaiso for five of six at home, highlighted by Mid-Con clashes with Oral Roberts on September 15 and the team that ended Valpo's 2005 season, Oakland, on September 30.
The home season wraps on October 25 against Eastern Illinois, but not before Valpo makes a pair of trips to the Big Ten Conference, battling Northwestern and Michigan State on the road.
Then, on October 27, the Crusaders will close out the regular season with a Mid-Con matchup at Western Illinois.
If the Crusaders do again qualify for the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament by finishing in the top four, they would open play at the two-round event on November 3 in Rochester, Mich. And with a veteran core of seniors and an experienced young group back, the Crusaders are poised to make another push - to the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament and beyond.