With eight starters returning from a team that was 18-6-1 last season, the Waterloo Bulldogs have every reason to aim high.
Heading the list are seniors and leading goal-scorers Kane Osterhage and Clay Metz. Osterhage had 17 goals and seven assists last year; Metz had 14 goals and four assists.
Their presence, plus the addition of juniors Ben Huels and Philip Most from the academy program, will give the Bulldogs plenty of offensive firepower.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said 18th-year Bulldogs coach Chad Holden, whose team opens the season at 5:30 p.m. Monday against visiting Gibault. “We’ve been working hard since June and now we just can’t wait to start getting some real games under our belt. We return a good nucleus of players and we gained a few other ones that will give us even more depth.
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“We have a strong squad on paper. We’ve been drilling it into the guys, though, ‘We’ve proven nothing yet. We’ve got to get some win under our belt and prove it out on the field.’”
Holden said Osterhage, who has 27 goals and 10 assists in his career, can play forward or attacking midfielder. While capable of scoring 20-plus goals, Osterhage might not need to feel the pressure to do that while surrounded by Metz, Huels and Most.
“To score 17 goals on the schedule we had last year was great,” Holden said. “We hope he can even improve on that this year, but we can spread it around a little bit. We’ve got a variety of kids that can put the ball in the net this year. To be able to have those other guys up top will make us even more dangerous.”
Even so, Holden said Osterhage is “one of the better players in the area.”
“He’s got speed, he can move with and without the ball, he’s got a great shot and he’s one of our team captains,” Holden said. “Kane can cover a lot of ground. He’s our fastest player and he’s also our best player in endurance. He can do it all.”
Holden said Huels and Most appear ready to make immediate contributions, but he offered a precautionary note.
“They haven’t had an actual, real game under their belt,” Holden said. “In practice, they’ve looked really good. But I don’t want to make any judgments yet, until we start in the season with actual games instead of scrimmages.”
Other seniors returning include midfielders Cole Kaiping and Ethan Lewis and defenders Chase Rubemeyer, Jon Kreher, Mike Barton and Jake Wagner. Lewis had seven assists last year.
Juniors include midfielders Tyler Grob and Ryan Stites, defender Griffin Lenhardt and defensive midfielder Dawson Holden, the coach’s son.
Senior Kyle Schaefer and junior Trevor Coplin are vying for the starting spot in goal.
“They’re very athletic,” Chad Holden said. “They had a good chance of getting to play last year, but our two seniors (Tyler Chitty and Charlie McGhee) really came on for us. So they’re still fighting for the spot. They both have looked really good so far.”
Early in the season, Holden envisions being able to go four or five players deep. The Bulldogs could tap even deeper into their pool of talent as the season matures.
“I have a feeling we’re going to be changing our lineup from game to game,” Holden said. “We have 15, 16 guys that could start for us. If we can keep people fresh, keep people subbing in and out to keep that competition going, that just makes it better. It’s a short season with a lot of games in it, so that’s always helpful. It might take a little while to jell.”
Waterloo will not return senior Tyler Begis, who transferred to Columbia after a 12-goal, nine-assist season with the Bulldogs last season.
“It’s a loss ... but we’ve got rules we abide by,” Holden said. “Our kids haven’t really talked much about it. We’ve got kids who can fill in. We’re going to do the best with what we’ve got. If we lose people, that happens. You move on.”