LOGAN — Although nearly half of Logan’s varsity soccer team is made up of seniors, longtime Chieftain coach Ian Riddlebarger expects more of a youthful look once his team takes to the pitch.
“We have a lot of numbers, a decent amount of seniors and the biggest freshman class we’ve ever had,” said Riddlebarger.
There are a whopping 50 boys in the program’s upper four grades this season. The current varsity roster includes 12 seniors, seven juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen, with five of the Chiefs’ nine returning lettermen being underclassmen.
“We’re probably going to be young-ish on the field this year,” Riddlebarger revealed.
The Chiefs open their 2019 season Friday evening when they make the short trip to Lancaster to face the Gales, one of their arch-rivals.
“It’s great to see that kind of interest,” Riddlebarger noted. “It’s kind of been growing numbers-wise in recent years. There’s been some ups and downs, but overall trending upward this year. I think (having 50 players) is a good problem, but it does create somewhat of a juggling act.”
There are so many players that the junior varsity squad — which currently has 26 players, one of whom is on both the varsity and reserve rosters — might be divided to added a second JV squad if another coach and enough games can be found.
“Numbers makes you feel you’re doing something right,” Riddlebarger noted. “The kids are interested in playing. It’s nice to have the quantity, but we need to continue to develop the quality.
“I moved a few guys down to JV who I think in some years would have been varsity players,” he added. “I just had to move them down because I couldn’t promise them enough playing time.
“I think we can have a solid team and I do like that there’s more competition for spots that maybe we haven’t had in other years. It’s nice to have those options.”
The Purple & White are coming off a break-even 7-7-2 record in 2018, including a 1-3 slate in the inaugural season of the Mid-Ohio Valley Soccer League, where they defeated Marietta and lost to Alexander, Athens and Warren.
They also graduated players who accounted for more than half of their 44 goals, including four-year letterman Ryan Davis (12 goals) and three-year letter-winner Layton Cassady (nine), who were one-two in putting the ball in the net.
Davis finished a solid career with 31 goals, which ranks him eighth all-time in Chieftain soccer history.
Four-year letterman Dawson Libben, one of the team’s unsung standouts, has also graduated, along with two-year players Zach Murrey and Garrett Weeman as well as Clay Hunter, Cody Burns and Bo Nihiser.
Senior defender Gavin Swope, along with junior forward Toby Stewart and junior midfielders James Smith and Christian Swart, all have two.
Back with one letter apiece are senior midfielder Bailey Taggart, senior forward Stephan Walker, senior defender Justin Snyder and junior defenders Dylan Grover and Riley Primmer.
Players who scored 15 goals last season — including Stewart with six and Swart, Smith and Walker with two apiece — return for Riddlebarger this season.
Finding players to replace Davis and Cassady who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net may be a task done by committee this fall.
“We lost some guys who were good players and who were good contributors last season,” Riddlebarger said. “We have to fill some spots, but again I think we have some options to be able to do that.
“Scoring may come in different ways this year,” he continued. “We may not have one person who is going to stand out in that area. It may be more of a broader team effort in scoring. I’m confident with a little more work we can be a good defensive team, but we’re still going to be a little inexperienced.”
Murrey did most of the goalkeeping last season. His graduation leaves a void in front of the net that will be filled by young players.
“We’re extremely inexperienced in goal but I think there’s potential there with Tegan and Max,” said Riddlebarger, referring to sophomore Tegan Myers and freshman Max Black. “I think they’ve both shown promise this summer. Both being younger guys and not having played at this level, I like what I’ve seen out of them so far.”
The Chieftains aren’t totally inexperienced, however.
“We have some guys who are much more experienced,” Riddlebarger pointed out. “Gavin Swope (is in his) third year as a varsity player and is a captain. James Smith is a junior and third-year varsity guy and is a captain, and Christian Swart is the same.
“Toby Stewart, this will be his third year as a varsity player and he has experience,” he added. Senior “Drake McGee played a little bit for us as a sophomore. He didn’t play last year but I think he’s going to be the leader of our back line. We have an opportunity for some kids to step up.”
All in all, there are 17 sophomores and 14 freshmen in the program, meaning the future should be bright for Logan soccer. And the Chieftains have put together five-straight seasons at or above .500, including a 28-6-1 combined slate in 2016 and 2017.
But it’s the present, of course, that weighs more heavily on the head coach’s mind.
“Probably as any coach would feel, you want to be competitive with every game,” Riddlebarger said when talking about expectations for his ’19 Chiefs. “Seeing as how I think we’re going to be a little bit young-ish playing, I had some concerns coming into the season.
“It’s been a small sample so far,” he added, “but I’m feeling a little more confident we can maybe exceed that a little bit, be more than just competitive and go out and win a good number of games this year.”