When he takes a look at his roster, Fredonia State men's soccer head coach P.J. Gondek sees experience at every position.
Gondek is faced with the prospect of starting two 25-year-old forwards, two or three seniors in the midfield, two seniors and two juniors on defense, and a sophomore goalkeeper who logged 315 minutes as a freshman.
"Sometimes when you start a season," said Gondek, beginning his 13th season, "you look out at the field and see danger areas, areas where you need to put on a band-aid. I don't see that now. I see a lot of possibilities."
The two 25-year-olds are junior Craig Raines and senior Akwasi Owusu. Raines, a native of Gloucester, Va., and Owusu, originally from Ghana, both have previous collegiate experience, yet are playing together for the first time this fall. Gondek said it's only a matter of time their playing abilities start to mesh.
"I hate to differentiate," he said, "but they're men big and strong compared to those around them. In time, I think they'll complement each other really well."
The Blue Devils' most decorated returning player plays in the midfield, senior Ryan Smith. A high-energy player since the day he first donned a Blue Devil jersey as a freshman, Smith has earned numerous post-season awards 2011 Second Team All East and Second Team All SUNYAC, and 2009 SUNYAC Rookie of the Year, to name just three.
Smith leads by example. "He's ultimately the leader of this team," Gondek said. "The way he plays has to be contagious."
The other senior midfielder, Tyler Williams, was 2011 Third Team All SUNYAC after leading the Blue Devils with nine goals and 22 points. Four of his goals were game-winners. A third all-conference player, junior Luke Tylutki, is working his way back into the midfield rotation while nursing a pre-season injury. Tylutki authored six goals and made Second Team All SUNYAC in 2011.
In addition to those three, senior Brian Courtney is a possible midfield starter as is freshman Patrick Schuber. Another freshman, Mike Biggane, junior Barry Hunt, and senior Taylor Page, will provide depth at the position. Hunt may also see time at other positions. Junior transfer Zach Dann will spell Raines and Owusu at forward.
Defense has been the hallmark of past Gondek-coached teams. There's no reason to feel 2012 will be different. Returning to the lineup are seniors Matt Schroen and Jeremy Voigt. The latter and Smith are co-captains.
Both starting middle backs are newcomers, one to the team and the other to the position. Jay Dry, a junior, joined the roster last spring, yet has junior college playing experience. Meanwhile, junior Jake Persons has switched quadrants from forward to defense. Both he and Dry are bigger, stronger players.
Gondek said sophomore A.J. Grecco will likely get the nod at goalkeeper when the Blue Devils open their regular season Friday vs. St. John Fisher at University of Rochester's Flower City Classic. Grecco was 3-0-0 with one shutout and a 1.14 goals-against average in 2011. Another returning player, sophomore Mike Schreiner, will be the first backup.
"A.J. is a really intelligent kid," Gondek said, "so I don't see his inexperience as a huge issue."
Gondek begins the season with an all-time record of 136-80-20, including an 11-8-0 record last year. The Blue Devils fell short of making the SUNYAC tournament when they fell to New Paltz and Oneonta on the final weekend of conference play.
He said the fate of the 2012 season hinges on the play of Raines and Owusu.
"The strength of our team is our defense," he said, "and we have three all-conference players in the midfield, and I haven't even mentioned our depth. We have a good freshmen class. But the key is that our two forwards have to stay healthy."