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A youth movement in 2008 has the
This season's roster includes 16 freshmen and just five upperclassmen. Third-year head coach David Madsen is confident that the energy and skills of the young core will inspire the returnees and provide a nice mix of experience and talent.
"In a lot of ways it's a very new team," Madsen said. "We've got a lot of new faces in the group, and I think in a lot of ways, too, it's reenergized the upperclassmen. I think I've seen a lot of the upperclassmen, they've got a little bit of a bounce in their step, but also just their mentality is a little different this year."
Despite a low number of returnees, Madsen is pleased with the leadership they have shown during the preseason. A pair of seniors, captain Matt Van Drunen (Kaukauna) and Kevin Fitchett (
"As captain, Matt brings a lot to the table because he's been around the program for the past few years, and he's really bought into what we're doing," Madsen said. "He always brings a lot of effort to the table."
The Muskies will play five non-conference matches this season to complement their NAC slate. Four of those contests are on the road, including the first two of the season, at Northland Baptist on Aug. 29 followed by a Sept. 6 match-up with UW-Whitewater. The Warhawks defeated the Muskies, 6-0, last season. Madsen was a standout goalkeeper at Whitewater from 1999-2002.
"That should be a good test," Madsen said. "Whitewater's always been a strong team, they've been a tournament team for the last five or six years. I expect that to be a strong challenge. If nothing else, it will give us a good look at what we're looking for to challenge for at the top of the conference."
Offensively, the Muskies return two of their top goal-scorers from a year ago.
Fitchett, a midfielder, led the team in goals (six) and shots (43) in 2007. Madsen describes him as a passionate player who will not only score goals but set others up for shot opportunities. Fitchett registered three assists last season.
"He's always a player that other teams try to shut down," Madsen said of Fitchett. "If they can shut him down, they think they've done what they need to do against us."
Junior midfielder Ryan Malo (
Van Drunen, a veteran midfielder, will bring intelligence and experience to the front line as well as strong leadership. He started 17 games last season and tied for the team lead in minutes played (366).
"Van Drunen, he's a smart player," Madsen said. "He knows what his capabilities are and he always plays inside of them. He's a hard worker too, he's always a guy who's pushing everybody else to do their best, and he's always working to do his best as well."
At the forward position, Cormier is not only a team leader, but a pure goal-scorer that can help provide offensive punch.
"Cormier is looking to come back pretty strong this year," Madsen said. "He's playing with a lot of desire in all the practices so far, so I expect him to have a big impact."
Madsen also hopes for immediate offensive contributions from three freshmen.
Midfielder Craig Dekarske (
On defense, the Muskies look to shore up a defense that didn't record a shutout and finished 10th in the NAC last year with 64 goals allowed. They will rely on a number of young players at most positions. A pair of freshmen, Matt Durbin (
Senior Takumi Yabara (
"Takumi is very technically sound in what he does," Madsen said. "I think the guys recognize that and know how hard he works. He's not one to say much, but he's definitely a lead-by-example type of player."
Freshmen Bobby Rublee (
On the whole, Madsen sees a load of talent despite a mountain of youth and lack of playing experience. He believes the team will mesh quickly and look to make a splash in the NAC in 2008.
"I think there's a lot of talent and ability in this young group coming in, and mixed in with some of the experienced guys that we have," Madsen said. "I think if we can get that combination right, it should be an exciting year for us.
"There are a lot of things we can do in conference, have a chance to push for a conference championship, or a conference tournament championship, if we get some bounces and things going right our way," he added.