The Notre Dame-West Burlington boys soccer team was a pleasant surprise last year, racking up a 13-8 record and advancing to a Class 1A substate semifinal before losing to Columbus/W-MU.
This season, the Nikes will not be in total rebuild mode. More like reloading. The Nikes lost several key players from last year's team, but have plenty of talent to build around. The key will be staying healthy and getting production from a couple of very talented but inexperienced freshmen.
Before all is said and done, the Nikes could once again be a pleasant surprise and be one of those teams that no one wants to play in the postseason.
"This will be a little bit of a rebuilding year. We lost quite a few seniors, but we've still got a couple goal scorers. I think we will do pretty good as a team," ND-WB coach Will Cahill said. "We finished third at the Fort Madison Tournament. We lost to Knoxville in penalty kicks in the semifinals or we would have been in the finals for the second straight year. We have a lot of freshmen making the transition from middle school to varsity. If they make a quick transition, that will be a big help."
Leading the way for the Nikes are seniors Jakob Anderson and Slater Gifford and junior Sturgis Thornton, the top three returning goal scorers. Anderson tallied 23 goals and has six assists last season, while Thornton had six goals and five assists and Gifford had three goals and an assists.
They will be joined up front by freshman Sam Brueck, senior Juan Barbosa and junior Rodolfo Radice. That gives the Nikes plenty of offense to compete with most teams on their schedule.
"We've talked about with our thin defense and inexperience in goal, we are going to have to be a high-scoring offense to do what we did last year," Cahill said. "We have to put in a lot of goals, especially early in the season, to be able to weather the storm."
With junior goalkeeper T.J. Schramm out for the early portion of the season, freshman Caden Murphy will step between the pipes and handle those duties. He played goalkeeper in junior high, but now must make a quick adjustment to a much faster game at the varsity level.
Cahill is also looking for a big season from Zach Getz, a transfer from Burlington, at the centerback position to solidify the defense, with Gifford possibly moving to defender to shore up the back line.
With only 18 players, the Nikes will have to stay healthy and be in tip-top condition.
"When we get T.J. Schramm back, that will help with our numbers. We only have 18 kids out, so a lot of kids are going to have to play JV and varsity. We are going to hit it hard on conditioning," Cahill said. "We will get everything figured out. We are looking forward to the season."