THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A year into the rebuilding process for the Cal Lutheran men’s soccer program the sights are set high as the Kingsmen return a group of 22 and welcome an incoming class of 10 for the 2013 campaign.
Look for an improved squad that features a deeper bench and high potential this fall. The experience of playing at the collegiate level coupled with off-season preparations and a strong recruiting class will add to their success during the upcoming year. The Kingsmen hope to climb the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) ladder from a seventh place finish in 2012.
“Having the depth we have this year that we have lacked in the past will allow some of our players to be in positions they haven’t been able to play,” head coach Dan Kuntz went on, “We are excited about that and seeing how that interaction results in goals.”
The returning group has players with both varsity and JV experience. After graduating the lone All-SCIAC player selected from Cal Lutheran and team scoring leader a year ago, it will be up to the upperclassmen to fill the void.
Junior Kyle Fleming, who suffered a knee injury during the 2011 season, was not back to his full potential last fall, though he is completely recovered and in great shape entering this season. He started in 16 games last year, appearing in 19, as a defender for CLU, scoring one goal.
Another player who returns to the field after enduring a season-ending ACL tear early in 2012 is defender Tal Zaiet, who will not only be an impact player, but has stepped up as an overall leader as well.
With a year of collegiate soccer action under his belt, Alex Wardle,who started all 20 games as a freshman and emerged as one of the top defenders in the SCIAC, will again be a force protecting the CLU side of the field. Additionally, he added two goals for the Violet and Gold.
A pair of senior goalies in Rey Rivera-Ramos and Miguel Silva will compete for playing time with sophomore Jack Duncan. Rivera-Ramos logged nearly 1,000 minutes in 13 starts and allowed just 1.62 goals against with 60 saves while Duncan earned five starts, turning away 52 shots for a 1.88 goals against average in just over 623 minutes.
Also back on the defensive end of the field is senior Ivan Sanchez, the only other player to start in all 20 contests for the Kingsmen as a junior. He scored twice in 2012. Bryce Truver returns for his senior season after playing in 16 games with one goal last year.
Offensively, both David Lee and Matt Hubbard scored three times last season and will be expected to play key roles again. Other scoring output came from Nick Baldi, Nathan Davidson and Cameron Rude, netting a goal apiece for CLU in 2012. Baldi, Davidson, Lee and Hubbard all dished out an assist as well.
In addition to the returners, part of the depth that will be instrumental in the success of this squad comes from the addition of four transfers and a freshman class of six. Jorge Galvan (Taft College), Salvador Orozco (Santa Barbara City College), Henry Breheny (Chichester, England) and Gabriel Fernando (West Hills, Calif.) are staged to make immediate impacts for the Kingsmen.
A tough schedule from start to finish will challenge the Kingsmen day in and day out. Fortunately, CLU has played a number of competitive games with league rivals over the course of the last few seasons. They measure up against the teams that are playing into the SCIAC Post Season Tournament and hope to be there competing for one of those four spots.
Cal Lutheran opens the season at home, marking the first contest at CLU this year, on Friday, Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m. inside William Rolland Stadium in a blackout game against sister school Pacific Lutheran (Wash.). All fans are encouraged to wear black and the team will be donning dark jerseys for the first time. CLU is hosting a four-team Kingsmen Kickoff Classic Friday and Sunday, Sept. 1 with PLU, Occidental and UC Santa Cruz.