Butler’s march forward in men’s soccer took a huge leap last season when the Bulldogs tied the fourth-highest win total in school history and became the first Horizon League team since 2003 to finish with an unbeaten league record! The Bulldogs posted a 13-3-4 overall record, a 5-0-2 Horizon League mark and cracked the “Top 25” in the national soccer polls, reaching as high as No. 21.
That level of success has created a new dynamic for the Bulldogs as they head into the 2009 season. Butler won’t be flying under the radar.
“Expectations are high and we’re excited,” said Butler head coach Kelly Findley, who has delivered back-to-back winning seasons for the Bulldogs.
There’s good reason for optimism in the Bulldogs’ camp this fall. Findley has 22 letterwinners back from last year’s successful squad, including eight returning starters. The Bulldogs, who set school records for fewest goals allowed (16) and goals against average (0.76) in 2008, have their entire defensive back line returning, as well as the two goalkeepers who helped Butler to a school-record 10 shutouts. Findley also returns a solid corps in the midfield.
But the fourth-year head coach does have a couple of major holes to fill. Frank Patano and Eduardo Garcia combined to score better than 40% of Butler’s points last season and both are gone. Patano tallied 12 goals and 13 assists, and he led the Horizon League in scoring for a second consecutive season. Garcia finished third in the NCAA Division I with a school-record 13 assists, and he wound up second on the team in scoring with 19 points.
“Frank and Eddie were exceptional players and they’ll be missed,” noted Findley. “But we have very talented players returning and a strong group of new guys who can contribute.”
As the scoring options develop, Findley can rely on a strong defensive presence led by a pair returning All-League performers, senior goalkeeper Nick Hegeman and sophomore back Matt Hedges. Hegeman, a second team All-League pick last season, was Butler’s starting goalkeeper in 16 matches, and he posted seven shutouts. He ranked third in the Horizon League and 28th in the NCAA Division I in goals against average (0.77), and he finished fourth in the league in save percentage (.783). Hedges, who was named to the league’s All-Newcomer team, started all 20 matches in his initial season with the Bulldogs.
Also returning to the backfield are senior Kyle VondenBenken and juniors Conner Burt and Brett Heinz. All three started all 20 matches a year ago, and each contributed to Butler’s stingy defensive yield. Additional backfield help could come from senior Austin Evans, junior transfer JC Aikenhead, sophomore Ben Kissick and freshmen Jared Isenthal and Jordan Burt. Evans started 20 matches for the Bulldogs two years ago, and Kissick saw action in 14 matches last year. Aikenhead played in 27 matches at Northern Illinois over the past two seasons, while Burt was named Northern Indiana Player of the Year at Concord High School last fall. Isenthal earned All-State honors at Carmel High School last year.
Findley further can call on a trio of returnees, seniors Adam Burch and Jared Gillespie and sophomore Scott Vail, on the back line or at midfield.
The goalkeeper position behind Hegeman is equally deep. Senior Fabian Knopfler started four matches last year and posted three shutouts. He has 20 starts, five shutouts and a 1.33 goals against average for his career. Redshirt freshman Nick Powell and freshman Jon Dawson add talent and depth.
Offensively, the Bulldogs will look first to a pair of returning All-League players, senior Boris Gatzky and junior Kyle Pateros. Gatzky earned second team All-League honors for the second straight season, while starting 19 of 20 matches as a midfielder for the Bulldogs. He tied for third in the league in assists with six and added four goals. Pateros, another second team All-League pick who started 19 matches, was second on the team in goals scored with six, and he tied with Gatzky for third on the squad in scoring with 14 points.
“We expect Boris to play a larger role in our points this season,” noted Findley. “And Kyle has shown an ability to score goals.”
Additional scoring support should come from a host of returnees, including juniors Ben Sippola, Jacob Capito, Troy Blewitt and Matt Sall. Sippola finished fifth on the team in scoring last year with three goals and four assists, while Capito added a pair of assists. Blewitt saw action in all 20 matches, while Sall played in 19. Other returnees who could challenge up front are juniors Dustin Mares and Michael Clayton and sophomore Lucas Eichhorn.
A trio of talented newcomers are contending at the forward position and any or all could be major contributors this season. Freshman Tyler Pollock, who led the Dayton area in scoring last fall, was a high school All-American at Beaver Creek, Ohio, High School, while freshman Julian Cardona was named Soccer Player of the Year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School in Minnesota. Freshman Blake Leyden was named All-American and National Player of the Year for the National Christian Schools Athletic Association (NCSAA) after scoring 27 goals at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis last year.
The Bulldogs will open the 2009 campaign on the road at IPFW on Tuesday, Sept. 1. The team's first home game will be against Xavier on Sunday, Sept. 6, at 5 p.m. (ET).