Lots Of Unknowns For The Soccer Men

Senior Ryan Eshleman is an All-ODAC First Team defender, while junior Caleb Golladay (background) is the only other returning starter in 2012.
Senior Ryan Eshleman is an All-ODAC First Team defender, while junior Caleb Golladay (background) is the only other returning starter in 2012.

Just 10 months after claiming a tie for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular season crown, the conference coaches fully recognize that EMU graduated most of their starting unit.  As a result, the Royals soccer men were picked to finish seventh in the ODAC Preseason Poll.

The men were tabbed within a few votes of fifth place, coming in just behind Hampden-Sydney and Virginia Wesleyan.  ODAC Tournament Champion Randolph was narrowly named the favorite, earning one more point than Roanoke.

Coach Roger Mast has plenty of questions as he enters his 22nd season at the helm of Eastern Mennonite, just six wins shy of 200 for his career.  He returns only two starters from 2011 in All-ODAC First Team defender Ryan Eshleman (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) and versatile junior Caleb Golladay (Mt. Jackson, VA/Stonewall Jackson) who had two goals and one assist last year.

Beyond that, Mast will let his players earn their time on the field.

"I expect to start 11 players," he said.  "Those that show well will garner more time."

The Royals lost 21 of their 26 goals scored from last year, leaving this year's team looking for a new identity.  Mast expects an adjustment early on.

"Our system and style of play will become more evident as we begin to rely on the individual strengths of our players," he explained.  "Our strength is our youth.  The players are hungry to prove their worth on the team and seem ready for the challenge that this season brings."

One of the areas of change will be in goal, as graduation will force Mast to start a new keeper for the fourth straight campaign.  Both of Mast's options were on the team last fall, however, giving each valuable experience.

"Andrew Yoder (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) saw quality minutes last season and seems ready to take over the reins," EMU's coach said.  "Cody Hand (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian) has also shown well in the preseason."

There are four seniors on the roster, although only Eshleman played for the Royals last fall.  Ian Mast (Willow Street, PA/Lancaster Mennonite) returns after a season away.  Two other players are back who each found the net in their rookie years – Adam Moyer (Harleysville, PA/Christopher Dock), who scored two goals and assisted on another, and Mark Mast (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite), who scored once and picked up three assists.

With such a vacuum of experienced upperclassmen, Coach Mast will rely on returners who showed big improvement since last fall.

"Brad Knispel (Sarasota, FL/Sarasota Christian), Mark Mast, Jacob Shank (West Liberty, OH/West Liberty) and Carl Becker (Vienna, VA/James Madison) will be leaned on to have a stronger impact on the team," he said.

Juniors Jordan Hollinger (Lancaster, PA/Lancaster Mennonite) and Brendan Jeschke (Vienna, VA/James Madison) are two other returners who saw significant time of the field in 2012.

The coach also drew attention to a handful of new players he expects to have a strong presence this year: Old Dominion-transfer Joao Downs (Limon, Costa Rica/Cologio de Limon), Christian Rhine (Palmyra, PA/Palmyra), Potomac State-transfer Juan Flores (Mt. Jackson, VA/Stonewall Jackson), Parker Leap (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) and Jonathan Bush (Pottstown, PA/Owen J. Roberts).

With the ODAC season starting at Hampden-Sydney on Sept. 15, Mast said a key for his team will be to get into a rhythm soon.

"We won't have time for players to adjust," he said.  "They will need to gel quickly and their roles will become clearer as they produce on the field with the minutes that they are given."

The men open the season on the road, playing games this Saturday and Sunday at the UMW Soccer Classic in Fredericksburg, VA.  One highlight of the year will be the game against Guilford on Sept. 22, when Eastern Mennonite will honor the 1998 men's soccer team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Listed below is the 2012 ODAC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll.  For more information, visit any of the participating schools' websites, or go to the ODAC's home on the Internet at www.odaconline.com.

(#) Denotes First Place Votes

1. Randolph (7)

115 pts.

2. Roanoke (5)

114 pts.

3. Lynchburg

95 pts.

4. Washington and Lee

80 pts.

5. Hampden-Sydney

72 pts.

6. Virginia Wesleyan

71 pts.

7. Eastern Mennonite

67 pts.

8. Guilford

51 pts.

9. Randolph-Macon

49 pts.

10. Bridgewater

45 pts.

11. Shenandoah

17 pts.

12. Emory & Henry

16 pts.