Fort Lewis College men’s soccer head coach David Oberholtzer has never had so many incoming players competing for a starting spot – and that’s a positive, he said.
FLC added eight players during the offseason, which comes after five signed in the fall, bringing the total number of new players to 13.
“We’ve got a number of transfers coming in, so hopefully, that’ll give us additional experience straight away, guys that have played either Division I, high NAIA or the guys that have already have a good amount of college experience and have had some success at other schools where they’re coming from,” Oberholtzer said. “We’ve got a couple of international players joining us as well as a really strong group of domestic freshmen. I’m really excited to see what they can do. ... We’ve had a lot of competition already, but I don’t think it’s ever been in this many positions before.”
Oberholtzer is hoping the amount of potential field battles will help lift the Skyhawks back to the top of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, where they finished in seventh place last year and missed out on the conference tournament for the first time in program history. FLC finished the year with a 9-6-2 record and were 7-6-1 in conference. Five seniors graduated and the new players will be looking to fill the void. The players come from as far away as Bulgaria and Germany and are as close as the Front Range, and two have Division I experience. In the offseason, Oberholtzer signed three defenders, three midfielders, one goalkeeper and a forward.
Brantley Bice, a forward with two years of eligibility remaining, comes from the University of Memphis, where he played in 29 games for the Tigers and tallied three career goals and an assist. He was the lone forward of the group that signed and will be looking to help the Skyhawks find the back of the net more frequently, as they scored 31 times last season and averaged 1.92 goals per game.
Goalie Harrison Nuttall was instrumental in leading Brighton High School in Salt Lake City to a state title last season. He played over 1,400 minutes and gave up just 15 goals on the year, which averaged out to 0.84 goals per game. He recorded nine shutouts throughout the season.
The Skyhawks will be looking for a stronger defensive unit, and Oberholtzer made sure of it by adding three defenders who could compete for time right away. Kanon Tebo, a defender from Belgrade, Montana, spent three months training with Hellas Verona FC’s youth academy, an Italian club in the country’s top division. Before his training overseas, Tebo led Belgrade High School to two Montana state championships.
Also arriving in the fall will be two international defenders, Ruben Neubauer of Germany, and Milen Manchev of Bulgaria. Neubauer joins the Skyhawks from Germany, where he was a captain the under-19 Bundesliga youth league for Chemnitz U-17 and U-19 teams. Manchev spent time with his neighborhood team CSKA Sofia. He made his senior club debut in 2017 and made one appearance for the team.
At the midfield role, there will be three new names to watch. Riley Shea transferred from Johnson and Wales University in Denver where he played one season before arriving in Durango as a full-time student. Shea played high school soccer at Broomfield. Meanwhile, Kacey Owensby arrives from NAIA power Mid-America Christian, where he was key in controlling the midfield. In two seasons with the Evangels, he played 38 games, scored six goals and added four assists. His team advanced to the NAIA Championship Round of 16 last fall.
Rounding out the list is Alejandro Arribas Navarro, who spent two seasons at Sacred Heart University. He scored five times this past season and added one goal and an assist in 2017.
“I think that anytime you bring in such a large group, the main battle will be just the team chemistry,” Oberholtzer said. “With 30 guys all going in the same direction, fighting for 11 spots, we’ve got a really good group returning, we’ve got strong leadership within that group, and it’s turned out to be what we think is a really strong incoming class, as well, so just finding a way to mix those two groups and get them on the same page as quickly as possible will be huge for us.”
The new group will report in August for preseason camp. The season lid-lifter is Sept. 5 against Cal State East Bay in Salt Lake City.