FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – The Marian University men's soccer team is looking for a bounce-back year under Head Coach Craig Peltonen, who is entering his 25th season at Marian and was inducted into the Wisconsin Coaches Hall of Fame earlier this year. The Sabres will try to take advantage of their experience and a few key newcomers in an effort to return to the Northern Athletics Conference tournament for the first time since 2010.
Last year was a disappointing result as Marian finished 5-12-1 overall, 4-7 in the NAC. Injuries and inexperience led to six losses by two or fewer goals, but Peltonen believes the added experience and depth can provide immediate dividends and allow the Sabres to sneak up on a league that picked them to finish seventh out of 12 teams in the NAC Preseason Coaches' Poll.
"We have experience in a lot of areas," Peltonen said. "After two weeks of training, our back line has shown a lot of promise, the midfield is displaying tremendous fitness and skill, and our forwards are much more dynamic with another year of experience. Offensively, we have more guys who can score. We should be able to create a lot more scoring chances."
Offensively, they return junior David Reinke, who has led the Sabres in scoring in each of his first two seasons and ranks tied for 22nd all-time on the Marian scoring list with 26 career points. Senior Milan Stupar returns to action after sitting out last year following ACL surgery. He led the team in points as a junior two seasons ago and ranks tied for 25th on the all-time scoring list with 25 points.
Junior transfer from Augsburg, Nate Peltonen, will be an added threat offensively as he provides more size up front, standing six-feet, two-inches.
"We have four guys over 6-2," Coach Peltonen said. "We should be dangerous on set pieces."
A veteran laden group leads the midfield as seniors Everett Zank and Raul Perez will provide a lot of experience, as will junior Jacob Dorsey. Two freshmen, Danny Heerhold and Zach Peltonen will also be thrown into the mix.
"Both are very quick and good at taking defenders on," Coach Peltonen said. "They will bring an attacking flare to the game."
The arrival of brothers Nate and Zach gives their hall of fame head coach of a father the opportunity to coach all three of his sons after Luke Peltonen played his final two years in Marian Blue before graduating last year.
The Marian back line, which ranked 10th in the league having allowed 43 goals in 2011, should see improvement as it returns seniors Denny Mudd and Rob Ogden, who missed last year.
"Both provide us much-needed experience," Peltonen said. "Denny is one of the most determined players to come through Marian, while Rob's composure will really solidify us."
Additions in junior transfer Michael Ekstrom and freshman Ramon Sutherland will have large roles as well. Ekstrom brings two years of previous experience, while Sutherland hails from historic Martin Luther King, Jr. HS that captured the New York City Championship last fall. Freshman Javier Miranda will also be a solid contributor.
In goal, the Sabres will look to replace their top-two keepers and are confident that Bryce Woldt is the man for the job. The sophomore saw just action in just four games last season, making seven saves and allowing just a goal over 97 minutes. Freshman Jameson Hoerner will add depth to the position as well.
The schedule will prove difficult once again as Peltonen noted, "The program prides itself on a tough schedule."
Marian will host its first five matches of the regular season, which includes non-conference match-ups against Beloit (Aug. 31), Lawrence (Sept. 2), St. John's of Minn. (Sept. 7), Adrian (Sept. 9) and UW-Oshkosh (Sept. 12).
The conference opener will be at Wisconsin Lutheran (Sept. 15) before opening the conference home slate against Aurora (Sept. 19). Back-to-back road games follow with Concordia Chicago (Sept. 22) and MSOE (Sept. 26). Marian will then host three straight NAC tilts against Dominican (Sept. 29), Edgewood (Oct. 2) and Rockford (Oct. 6) before hitting the road for five of its final six regular season games.
"The league should be very competitive," Peltonen said. "Although Dominican is again at the top, there is a lot of parity. Top to bottom, the NAC is as strong as ever."
Marian opens the season tonight with a home match against non-conference Beloit at Smith Fields. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.