Westmont College will spring forward to a new and different kind of year for men’s soccer, ending the five-month delay of its fall season by scrimmaging two opponents this week and opening official play next week.
It presents a big challenge for Dave Wolf, who must integrate 11 new players onto his 25-man roster as he begins his 30th season as the Warriors’ coach.
“This opportunity for a fresh start and a new beginning in the fall of 2020 obviously did not materialize in the way that any of us would have hoped back in March,” he said. “The stability you would want to offer a new group of players, we just haven’t been able to offer to them.
“If you put our team into the context of a math formula, there is no doubt on paper, and as an equation, that it is a transitional year.”
Westmont scheduled scrimmages this week at Biola and Loyola Marymount and an exhibition at UCLA for Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Warriors’ regular-season opener is set for Thorrington Field at noon on Feb. 6 against Providence Christian. Spectators will not be allowed because of COVID-19 protocol.
Wolf, who has compiled a record of 341-162-54 during his 29 years at Westmont, is coming off a Golden State Athletic Conference championship season. Last year’s Warriors went 13-3-1 overall and 7-0-1 in league play.
He does return some locally grown, offensive firepower in senior Tyler Young of Buena High and junior Owen Bates from San Marcos, as well as junior Sam Tuscano.
Young earned All-GSAC honors last year while leading the Warriors with nine goals and two assists. Tuscano added five goals and assisted two others while Bates contributed three goals and two assists.
“Athletically, that is a lively group of players,” Wolf said. “They also have some interesting individual abilities. Tyler, especially in the aerial game; Sam and Owen as dribblers who can create for themselves a little bit.”
Junior Jack Worth, an NCAA Division 1 transfer from Liberty University, figures to play somewhere in the attacking half of the field.
“He has a mature game and I like him as a player,” Wolf said. “It will be interesting to see what he can do for us.”
Freshman Braeden Pryor and sophomore Micah Nelson have also impressed Wolf during workouts.
He’s looking to seniors Nick Ruiz and Isaiah Bolton “to provide some stability and leadership” in the midfield. The graduation of Lucky Puengrod and Pancho Castro does have Wolf in search of an “attacking, creative player that will get us into the right parts of the field.”
Senior Jona Romero and junior Memo Mendoza, a Santa Barbara High graduate, are two of the best options, Wolf added.
“Jona has all the attributes to do the role,” Wolf said. “He is a subtle, nuanced player.
“Memo is coming back after a fairly long injury lay-off. He brings a lot of intensity, a lot of work ethic and a lot of ground covering.”
Freshman Aldo Becerril, another local recruit from Dos Pueblos High, “is a gifted central midfielder” and one of several new players with the “opportunity to impact us right away.”
The graduation of NAIA All-Americans Lalo Delgado and Tim Heiduk, the GSAC Player of the Year, has left some holes in Westmont’s defense.
Sweden’s Måns Ingvarson, a sophomore transfer from Essex Community College, figures to replace Delgado at goalkeeper. Wolf also expects All-GSAC defender Zach Godeck to step into Heiduk’s role as the “alpha dog of that back row.”
“He was a consistent, first-11 player last year,” Wolf said. “He was in a great situation, playing next to Tim and in front of Lalo.”
Two local players return on the back line: San Marcos graduate Michael Palmer, who started at left back as a freshman last year, and Wyatt Babineau, a junior from Dos Pueblos.
Justin Nakaoka also got some playing time as a freshman. Sophomore Mason Ginni and junior Josh Phillips are contending for the right center back position.
“(Palmer) is a very good leader and is a candidate to play inside with Zach, as is (sophomore) K.C. Smith,” Wolf said. “K.C. was not with the team last year, but we have been very impressed with him upon his return. He brings a stability and a maturity to our back row.”
Westmont’s season opener on Feb. 6 will be its first countable game in more than 14 months. The Warriors will also play host to Point Loma and travel to Fresno Pacific before wrapping up its pre-conference season with its annual Bryant & Cup Sons match at UCSB on Feb. 20.
“If we can survive the non-conference phase of the season, we should be plenty ready for GSAC,” Wolf said.