Expectations are naturally high for the Althoff boys soccer team.
The Crusaders return all but two players from last season, when they were 10-2 and won the South Seven Conference.
“I think we’ll be pretty good,” said third-year coach Joe Burchett, whose team was scheduled to play Wesclin in its season opener Monday. “For the most part, I have everybody returning. I’m optimistic for the future.
The graduating players, midfielder Hayden Buss (seven goals, five assists) and forward Nick Harper (16 goals, 11 assists), were significant contributors, but Althoff brings back its leading scorer in senior forward Donovan Gagen (18 goals, 13 assists).
Gagen and sophomore forward Jimmy Monken, who was a wing midfielder last season, are expected to give the Crusaders plenty of offensive firepower.
“He’s been the leading goal-scorer since I’ve been here,” Burchett said. “It’s been pretty difficult to consistently defend him. There are a lot of goal-scorers out there, but he’s a kid who wants them. He wants to put the ball in the back of that net. He’s a very good soccer player.
“We’ll supplement him with Monken and see if we can get goals out of Jimmy as well. He’s quick. He’s a little bit smaller than Donovan, but he’s a goal-hungry kid, too. It will be difficult for some teams to deal with both of them. They’ll have to pick (one). Already in practice, we’ve seen some good things between them.”
The Crusaders are solid in the midfield, too, with seniors Justin Robinson and Jacob Petry returning. Senior Evan Toennies, who played center back last year, will transition to the midfield and will be joined by a committee of sophomore Tyler Stone and freshmen Mitchell Kidd and Nathan Petry.
“We’ll move them around and see which one does the best,” Burchett said. “Tyler Stone, (midfield) is his position with his club team, so right now, he’s sort of leading the pack because he’s most familiar with it. The other two, that’s not their roles on their club teams, but we’re going to see if we can supplement them there.”
Robinson was Althoff’s third-leading scorer last year with seven goals and eight assists.
“He’s fabulous. He’s every coach’s dream,” Burchett said. “He’s a great kid with good size.”
Junior Stephen Waltrip and senior Will Dall return as defenders.
“He’s a quality soccer player,” Burchett said of Waltrip. “He has good size, speed and technical ability.”
Senior Alex Langenstein also will start in the backfield, but Burchett is searching for a consistent player to fill the final role in the back.
“I’m very confident in three of those boys,” Burchett said, referring to Waltrip, Dall and Langenstein. “We have to get a fourth one that I like and see how he fits in there. We’ll see if one of the younger kids can step up.”
Senior Stephen Toenjes returns in goal. He had four shutouts, 93 saves and a 1.68 goals-against average last season.
“He’s ready to go,” Burchett said. “He’s a little bit bigger; he’s fit. He’s an athletic kid, so I think he’ll be good for us again after another year under his belt.”
The Crusaders have just 28 players in their program, so avoiding injuries is a key.
“We can’t dig too deep without falling off a little bit,” Burchett said. “(But) I like to think we can compete for the regional.”