Tops need senior to lead youth movement

Danny Schoenbaechler

Ben Buerger gave a display last Saturday night of exactly what his coach and teammates know he can do.

Western was trailing Cumberland College 3-1 in an exhibition match when the fifth-year senior captain put the team on his shoulders and carried them back.

He scored two goals in four minutes to force an overtime that the Hilltoppers’ won on a golden-goal penalty kick by freshman midfielder Brandon Bailey.

Buerger has started throughout his career on the Hill and will be the focal point on an enormously youthful squad. The Toppers lost 11 seniors from last year’s team. With the new season kicking off at home Saturday against Kentucky Wesleyan, they’ll count on Buerger to bring along the newcomers.

“Ben is our captain, and he has done a terrific job in the preseason,” Western coach David Holmes said.

Freshman forward Steven Medlock agrees that Buerger has been a model captain so far.

“I think Ben Buerger has done a great job bringing us together,” he said.

Fittingly, Buerger plays in the central midfield where he can help the team in an assortment of ways and keep a watchful eye on his green mates. He will be joined in the central midfield by redshirt freshman Ritchie Mupfudze, who also figures to be an integral part of any Toppers success.

“Ritchie brings some athleticism to the field that can be really exciting,” Holmes said.

Buerger agreed.

“When Ritchie has the ball, he can take on anyone on the field,” he said.

And while Toppers will be relying on some very young scorers, Buerger thinks the inexperience factor can be overrated.

Medlock and sophomore Justin Goodman will play up top as strikers, and freshmen Bailey and Daniel Payne should see plenty of time as the outside midfielders.

“We have some attacking talent on this team, and some depth that we didn’t have last year,” Holmes said.

And if that crew can score some points, Western will have a little more experience and certainty on the other end. Junior Daryl Sattler will start in goal for the third consecutive season. He was chosen by the coaches as a preseason honorable-mention all-conference goalkeeper.

He and Buerger are staples.

But the youngsters will have to improve on the Toppers’ woeful scoring output from a year ago if they plan to compete for a conference title.

Last year, Western scored 24 goals in 17 games, and departing senior Andy Fertick led the way with four goals. It was an anemic effort when compared to Missouri Valley Conference champion Southern Methodist’s 61 goals, led by conference player of the year Luchi Gonzalez and his 21 goals and 11 assists.

Thus, it’s not surprising the Mustangs have been picked by the coaches to repeat as MVC champions and Western was chosen to finish eighth in the 10-team league.

“This conference is really tough,” Holmes said. “Every game is tough.”

SMU is ranked eighth in the nation and fellow MVC team Creighton is 19th. On paper, the Toppers look to face long odds in trying to better last year’s 7-10 record.

But just this weekend Buerger beat the odds. He put his team in position to win. And he let a rookie finish it off.

It may be wishful thinking, but the Toppers hope that was a prelude to the coming season.

BEGINITAL Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]