By: Justin Brouckaert, Vanguard Sports Editor
This summer, four Cardinals led the Canton Celtics men’s team to the USASA U20 National Championship.
With the 2011 season kicking off in just a few days, head coach Cale Wassermann is hoping that those same players will be able to help lead the team to a GLIAC championship this fall.
Young players such as sophomores Zach Walega, Lachlan Savage, Morley Burns and junior Mitchell Reinhart, members of the national title-winning team, may prove valuable assets in 2011 as the Cardinals attempt to rebound from the loss of four seniors, including two all-GLIAC selections in 2010.
“We’ve had about three to four freshmen starting in both our preseason games and a couple of transfers that have done pretty well for us also,” Wassermann said. “There are a lot of young guys that are fired up and eager to get the season started.”
According to Wassermann, the transition for the new players has been smooth.
“There’s a very positive energy for the whole group,” he said. “We had a lot of guys playing over the summer, and they came in this year a lot more in shape and prepared.”
Walega agreed that the addition of freshmen is a big help.
“With other teams we play, freshmen don’t usually play a big part,” Walega said. “But they’re stepping up and playing a huge role.
“It’s been a battle for everyone because we have so much talent this year.”
Wassermann also stressed the importance of veteran leadership to develop the infusion of young talent on the squad.
“We only have one senior, but we have a decent-sized junior class,” Wassermann said. “Those are the guys that have been around through the bad times and the good, so I expect them to step up and take some of the new guys under their wing.
“I think that they’re excited; they’re expecting a championship as much as I am.”
The Cardinals are coming off a 2010 season where they posted a record of 9-6-3. The team finished 4-5-3 in GLIAC play, missing out on the conference postseason tournament.
Key returners for SVSU include the entire defensive line, which includes captains Andrew Burgeson and Zach Myers.
“Our backfield is [made up of] all returners, guys who know what’s expected of them; and, at the end of the day, if you don’t let up any goals, you’re not going to lose any games,” Wassermann said. “It’s big if the back four defenders can really step up.”
Other key returners include junior midfielder Robert Short, whom Wassermann called “the engine of the team.”
“He works his butt off every play, and he’s a guy that would run through a brick wall for his team,” Wassermann said. “A guy like that can really help spark the rest of the team.”
Walega has also been working hard to step into his new role as an offensive leader.
“There’s a freshman forward and two transfers that came in, so I’m really the only true returning forward,” Walega said. “I feel like it’s my job to help them learn the system because we’re going to be relied on a lot up top.”
In preseason balloting released last week, SVSU was picked to finish fifth in the GLIAC. Wassermann said that being an underdog is a source of motivation for the team.
“At the end of the day, I wish we were picked seventh,” Wassermann said. “The less respect we get, the more motivated we get.
“Our expectations are high; everyone else’s don’t matter.”
The team starts their season with an away game at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, against Lewis University.