SPOKANE, Wash. – When a dominant graduating class leaves, like last season's seniors for the Whitworth men's soccer team, it tends to impact the upcoming seasons in one of two ways. It can leave a hole that is impossible for the next group to fill. Or it can leave a legacy that leads the next year's team to additional success.
A preview of the 2012 Pirates has to begin by acknowledging the impact of the seniors of 2011, both in terms of quality and quantity. The nine seniors included seven who earned All-Northwest Conference recognition and that group won three NWC titles in four years.
"That class certainly left its mark," said Whitworth head coach Sean Bushey. "They were smart enough to learn from the classes before them and good enough to build on the opportunities created. They modeled what we want our soccer to look like: playing with freedom and personality while always playing for the program."
Bushey, who has led Whitworth to seven NWC championships in his 17 years coaching the Pirates, will field a starting lineup in 2012 with seven new faces. But he is still cautiously optimistic.
"Our expectations remain high," Bushey said. "There is no doubt we graduated a very talented class, but I believe we have some good players joining our program and we have guys who are returning that have worked hard. We are excited to work toward a conference title."
It begins on defense where Bushey will need to replace four-year starter Brian Sherpe in goal. Senior Kyle Novak and junior Nate Bell have the most experience. Novak studied abroad in 2011, but posted a stellar 0.42 goals-against average in ten matches in 2010. Bell appeared in three matches (68 total minutes) in 2011 and did not give up a goal. First year Shane Nishioka-Healy will provide Bushey with a third option, if necessary.
The Pirates will need to replace two full-time starters along the back line. But they can look to sophomore Colin Shockman, who earned honorable mention All-NWC as a first-year starter in 2011, to be an anchor.
Several other returning players have significant playing experience , including seniors Steven Acosta and Eric Wonn, along with juniors Andrew Flint and Will Wren. Junior Balin Larson, a transfer, will be in the mix for a starting role as well.
Junior Sam Selisch and sophomore Matt Bray have the most returning experience in the midfield. Selisch played in every match last season, with eight starts, and scored five goals. Bray started nine of the 18 matches and posted two assists.
Two transfers could make immediate impacts in the midfield. Junior Mike Chavez was an All-NWAACC selection at Columbia Basin College in 2011. Brandon Meyer, the younger brother of former All-NWC midfielder JT Meyer, began his career at NCAA Division II St. Martin's and has sophomore eligibility.
Whitworth is most experienced in the attack. Sophomore Robbie Ubben earned honorable mention All-NWC in 2011 after posting six goals and four assists. Senior Kekoa Mountcastle is a former Second Team All-NWC honoree who has 14 career goals. Junior Andrew French started ten matches in 2011 and finished with two goals and three assists.
But Bushey also says that freshman Karl Muelheims might be one of the most dynamic players he has had at Whitworth.
"I believe that we will be able to play at a good tempo and be able to create opportunities to score, which leads to entertaining soccer," Bushey said.
Whitworth's non-conference schedule includes challenging matches against Augsburg (Minn.), Hamline (Minn.), Wheaton (Ill.) and Corban (Ore.).
The NWC is expected to be wide open in 2012 with all four Washington schools (PLU, UPS, Whitman and Whitworth) in the hunt for a title.