BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The Union College men's soccer team opens its 2012 campaign this weekend, and will do so with some not so familiar faces in several key positions.
Head Coach Tyler Brock welcomes back just five players who logged playing time from a season ago, but the veteran head man of the Bulldog soccer program does not see the 2012 season as a rebuilding one for his young squad.
"With so many new players coming into the program, there is no doubt we will go through our ups and downs," said Brock. "But, I will say the talent level we have is extremely high, top to bottom."
Up front, the Bulldogs will lack experience, but should be an exciting unit to watch as they look to pace the Bulldog offense to success.
Brock is expecting big things out of freshman Cole Bray, a product of Nelson County High School, who in his senior season on 2011 scored 47 goals. That mark was the second highest in the entire Commonwealth. Bray was also a finalist for Mr. Kentucky Soccer in 2011.
Other players who will look to log playing time in the front include sophomore returnee Coy Taylor, freshman Trevor Herd, who enrolled into Union from Somerset High School, and Cody Johnson, who is also a sophomore and a product of nearby North Laurel High School.
In the middle, the Bulldogs will have their most experienced returnees leading the way.
Junior Jamie Cozens moves from up fron to the middle in 2012. Last season, Cozens started in all 18 matches the Bulldogs played, scoring four goals, while knotting three assists. The other top returnee is sophomore Jonathan Watson. Watson was an All-AAC second team selection a season ago at the position after starting all 18 matches. He ended the season with a team-high nine goals scored, while adding two assists, as well.
Outside of Watson, UC will once again have to rely on big contributions from young players. One player to watch out for is junior Joe Butcher, who transfers into Union from Burlington Community College. There, he scored nine goals a season ago. Other players who will look for playing time include sophomore Hugo Sanchez, and freshman Brian Chapman, Dino Sefer, Dawson Marcum, Ashton Johnson, Brad Seiter, and Reed Johnson.
The youngest unit on the entire pitch will be the back line of defense, as no players who will see significant playing time have seen action at the college level.
Michael Moore and TJ Speckman are the lone sophomores of the group. Out of the freshman class, look for Alfie Caruso to be a leader in the back, as the 6-5 product of Watford, England will start out of the gate for the Bulldogs. Other players to watch are all freshman, as well. They include Joe Woodley, Kyle Frazier, Donovan McClure, Jacob Dukes, Nick Mettert, Nick Holt, and Houston Stagner.
In goal, four players have battled throughout preseason camp, and going into the first games of the season, the competition for the starting spot in still fierce. The returnee in the group is sophomore Madison Justice
, who played in a reserve role last season, only seeing action in two matches.
The three other players who are battling for playing time are junior Juan Gallegos, and freshman Trey Upton and Adrian Frazier . Gallegos transfers into Union from Danville Community College in Virginia, where he was the team's goalkeeper the previous two years. Meanwhile, Upton comes to UC from Hopkinsville High School, where he was an All-Region selection, and Frazier comes from West Coast, as he is a Meifee, Calif. prospect.
Union opens the season for the second consecutive year against Emmanuel (Ga.) at home to kickoff the 2012 Bulldog Classic. The following day, the Bulldogs will entertain national power Belhaven (Miss.), who is ranked 17th in the NAIA Preseason Poll.
Following a trip to the Georgetown Classic Tournament with games against Ohio Christian and Huntington (Ind.) on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, UC returns home on Sept. 12 to open Appalachian Athletic Conference play against Virginia Intermont.
From there, Union will host or travel to AAC foes (including new members Point (Ga.) and St. Andrews (N.C.), while also entertaining a few out-of-conference opponents. Included is the squad's annual rivalry game at Cumberlands (Ky.), a homecoming clash with Berea (Ky.), and a senior day matchup with Cincinnati Christian.
The 2012 AAC Tournament will begin on Nov. 3 on campus sites across the conference.
To view the entire 2012 men's soccer schedule, click here.
Overall, Brock - who is entering his 10th season as head coach - realizes that having such a young team will be frustrating at times.
However, he sees potential in this young Bulldog squad, and if the team can get the most out of that potential, they should contend in the highly competitive AAC.
"We have enough talent on this team that when we go out and train, everyone deserves to be out there," said Brock. "We have good, quality players. Sure, we're going to make some freshman mistakes, but this will be an exciting team to watch as we go through the season."