For the first time in a long time, there could be more questions than answers for the North Olmsted boys soccer team as the Eagles prepare for the 2011 season.
Last year, a veteran Eagles squad went 10-4-4 and lost to Westlake on penalty kicks in the Division I district championship game. But with nine players leaving via graduation, head coach Chris Marsh has a rebuilding project underway for the first time in years.
“We’re going to be competitive, but we’re rebuilding,” Marsh said following a practice session Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ve only got six players coming back, so this will be one of the youngest teams we’ve had here in a while,” Marsh said. “For example, we’ll have three sophomores on our team, and they’ll probably play a lot.”
But while the overall roster my be inexperienced, the Eagles still have a nucleus returning from the squad that finished third in the tough Southwestern Conference behind Westlake and Brecksville.
Leading those returnees is junior forward J.J. Ball, who was first team All-Greater Cleveland last year with 16 goals scored. Also back at a forward spot is fellow junior M.J. Akpo-Esambe, who stepped into a starting role when Josh Sandoval was injured during the season. Yet another junior, Mike Butera, is back at center midfielder.
Two key seniors returning are defenders Jacob Szeltner and Matt Mahoney, who will serve as team captains along with Ball.
“Jacob played outside midfielder last year, but we’re moving him to outside back so we can let him attack out of the back,” Marsh said. “He has the ability to not only attack out of the back, but also score.
“Matt will probably play center back. He and Jacob should be pretty strong players for us in the back, along with Ryan Sara. He played half the season for us last year as a freshman and played very well,” he added.
Marsh said there is a battle for the starting keeper spot between Alec DeAnna and Evan Saunders.
“They’ve both worked very hard and have gone to goalie camps to improve,” Marsh said. “Alec is probably the best athlete on the team and has come a long way. he’s still a little rough around the edges, but he’s so athletic that he keeps the ball out of the goal.
“Evan is a solid field player and is probably technically more polished. With him, we’re looking for a little more consistency and to stay healthy, to stay away from some nagging injuries that he’s had here and there,” he said.
Despite the overall inexperience, Marsh said his team has some early-season goals that will help them prepare for the tournament season.
“We’ve stressed two things,” he said. “One, we want to get better every day. Second, we don’t care if we lose a game, as long as every day we get a little bit better, learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them.
“We’ve also talked a bout a third goal: we want to be relentless. Every time we step across the white line, we want to go as hard as we can. We talk about training for 84 minutes, and now we have guys talking about training for 100 minutes because of overtime in the state tournament,” he said.
North Olmsted opens the season Monday at Twinsburg. The Eagles open SWC play Wednesday at Olmsted Falls, then host Mayfield in their home opener Sat., Aug. 27. All three games are scheduled for 7 p.m.