NEW ULM - After finishing last season 4-14, the Martin Luther College men's soccer team is optimistic about the upcoming season.
With the return of a solid core group of players, and a handful of newcomers that will contribute, the Knights have their eyes set on a resurgent season.
The Knights return a pair of All-Upper Midwest Athletic Conference performers in senior defenseman Ross Chartrand and senior midfielder Kaleb Buch. Chartrand returns to the team this season after missing a year due to surgery.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Martin Luther College’s Kaleb Buch is one of the key returning players for the Knights this season.
"It's really nice having Ross Chartrand back," coach Paul Koelpin said. "Having a guy back who has played for two years and played at a high level, and was awarded as one of the better defensemen in the conference, that's just great."
Buch returns after leading the Knights with seven goals a season ago. Sophomore Steve Roekle joins Buch as a midfielder and the two form a sound duo.
"They work together very well," Koelpin said. "They both handle the ball well, they pass well. I'm just encouraging them as much as possible to play offense."
Among other key players returning for the Knights are junior forward Ryan Lemke, senior defenseman Ben Schone and senior defenseman/midfielder Colton Berger. Lemke scored five goals a year ago, while Schone and Berger started every game a year ago.
With all the experience, the Knights have exactly none at goalkeeper. Two goalkeepers without a minute of collegiate play will defend the net. Former MLC football player Eric Hahn and freshman Aaron Willems may see time in net.
"(Hahn) worked last spring and this summer to get used to the game and see what shots are like," Koelpin said. "He's done very well in the first week or so of practice."
Koelpin also likes what Willems brings to the table.
"He's got size, he's a good punter, he's unafraid," Koelpin said. "He's been a really positive thing."
Among other fresh faces that will likely contribute for the Knights are defensemen Adam Olander and Micah Koelpin, and a group of other solid newcomers that may possibly contribute this year.
The Knights are hoping all these pieces can come together and push them into the conference tournament.
"A goal for us would be to make it to the conference tournament," Buch said. "It would be totally fine by us to get in (the tournament) and we think we could do some damage."
"It's been several seasons now since we've been in the conference tournament," Paul Koelpin added. "I would love to get back in the conference playoffs. Is that a realistic goal? Yes."
According to Coach Koelpin, the Knights should have an improved defense, but must have a goalkeeper with a fast learning curve.
"I think that our young goalkeepers must prove their worth early on and their learning curve must be quick,"?Coach Koelpin said. "We have more experience back on defense, so my expectations are that they will be stronger."
"I know we can be competitive on the offensive end, but we have to believe we can be," Koelpin added. "We will have to work very hard to manufacture scoring opportunities and when we get them, score."
MLC will look to start the season off strong as the team travels to Wisconsin Lutheran College at 2 p.m. on Saturday.