Norse Men’s soccer head coach John Basalyga knows improving on the success of his squad’s 2007 season won’t be an easy task.
“All the stars have to line up in a row for us to even get to that spot we were at last year, but it’s obtainable,” said the two-time Great Lakes Region Coach of the Year.
That spot last year was a 22-2 record (13-0 in Great Lakes Valley conference play) and an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Division II national tournament. The Norse started the season 19-0 on their way to their second straight GLVC championship.
“It’s hard to replace the players we have lost,” said Basalyga. Those players, ten in all, consisted of three All-American selections. Basalyga will rely on the returning players to lead a team full of fresh faces to success.
“Even though we’ve lost a lot of guys we still have a good crew coming back,” said Basalyga. “I think their experience is going to be able to help the younger players and newer players coming in to ease that transition.”
That crew is led by junior All-American Braden Bishop, who leads the attack as a starting forward this year. Other notable returning players are senior Eric Ashworth, an integral part of the Norse’s stellar defense, and sophomore forward Steven Beattie.
Along with the returning players, the Norse will look for leadership from transfer students. Former Hilltopper veteran Dustin Downey joins the Norse after Western Kentucky University decided to eliminate its soccer program due to budget concerns.
“He’s a very good, quick outside midfielder,” said Basalyga of Downey. “He was their star for three years and has really stepped up to lead the team.”
Other transfers the Norse have acquired have also stepped up for the program, such as Mike Jonca, a junior midfield from the University of Detroit Mercy.
“He was a starter up there for the past couple of years, and his experience is going to help us a lot,” Basalyga said.
Stephen O’Brien, a transfer from Notre Dame College (Ohio) who hails from Dublin, Ireland, should also make a significant impact.
“He’ll give us someone to run with Braden up top,” Basalyga said. “Those three additions right there are going to help out quite a bit.”
However, the additions might not be enough for the Norse to succeed on the defensive side of the ball as well last year as the Norse defense led the country in goals allowed last season with twelve and averaged only .48 goals against per game.
According to Basalyga, losing two All-Americans such as Danny Impellizzeri and Andy Bacon, organizing the NKU defensively with the new additions is going to be the biggest problem.
“I think that’s our weakness right now,” Basalyga stated. “That’s what we’ve been spending most of our time on this summer.”
Basalyga also believes that returning sophomore goalkeeper Michael Lavric is going to see more shots and may have a tougher time keeping the ball out of the back of the net than he did last season.
“He knows very well his success was due to the fact that he had people in front of him that just didn’t let people shoot,” Basalyga said. “But technically, he’s as good as a goalkeeper as we’ve had here and he’s done a very good job.”
The Norse open their season on the road, facing West Virginia Wesleyan College Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. Their home opener is against Charleston at Town and Country sports complex in Wilder Aug. 31 at noon.
Click here to see the NKU Men’s Soccer page for more information.