But Norwalk boys soccer coach Jon Kijowski has a well-balanced roster with 15 returning letterwinners that looks to improve upon a 5-11-1 record from 2018.
The Truckers opened the season with a 3-1 win over Willard on Aug. 16 at the Norwalk Soccer Complex.
“We have a lot of lofty goals, and it’s rightful for the kids to think that way,” Kijowski said. “I think from a team standpoint, we can compete with pretty much anybody. As long as the boys show up and play their game, we’ll be able to compete.”
That being said, the Truckers still have a daunting schedule that includes a trip to Mansfield Madison tonight, while hosting Ontario on Saturday. The Rams were 13-2-3 last season, while the Warriors were 12-6-2. Both are longtime North Central Ohio power programs.
Norwalk opens league play in the SBC Lake Division with a trip to Sandusky on Aug. 26. The Blue Streaks were 9-5-3 a year ago.
“We do run into some gauntlets on our schedule with a lot of tough teams,” Kijowski said. “Those three are either well-established programs or have been good the past few years — so I told the boys while (last Friday’s) win was nice, we’ll find out a lot this week and have to get to work.”
As far as team strengths, Kijowski says his back line of defense holds things down.
“We chose our captains, and seniors Jad Oglesby, Jose Ruiz and Zach Keefer are all defenders,” he said. “They can dictate the game and they communicate very well in the back. When they are on their game, everyone else will be, too.”
As for offense, Kijowski believes just about anyone can step in and score goals for the Truckers this season.
In the win over Willard, the scoring was done by juniors Will Gehlhausen and Chaz Smith, and freshman Cam Shoop.
“Cam, that was exciting for a freshman,” Kijowski said. “It was a toe poke right over the goalie into the back of the net. I don’t know that anyone was expecting it — including us — but that was good.
“But we also have guys like (junior) Gavin Shutt and (senior) Austin Obermeyer who are also just as capable,” he added. “We’re trying to incorporate a lot of combination play both inside and outside. We’re hoping to be dangerous from all sides, not just one or two people.”
Other seniors on the roster include Tyler Clark, Kyle Harvey, Collin Mackall, Regan Zieber, Matt Luc and Jacob Baca. Juniors include Evan Gaston, Brian Morales, Jose Escobedo and Nate LaRoche.
As for the season, team defense will again be a key if the Truckers are to have a successful year.
“We’ve been talking about it for weeks now,” Kijowski said. “The kids have heard the coaches say over and over, ‘If you want to give yourselves a chance, you have to defend.’ And it can’t just be the backline, it has to be the entire team.”
Though it’s extremely early, the results of those talks were encouraging in both the preseason and the win over Willard.
“That was our main focus, team defense and transitioning back from offense to defense,” Kijowski said. “When you only give up one goal or none, you always give yourselves a chance. That’s been a good start for us.”
Norwalk will again be in the Division II Clyde district with sectional matches on Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.
2019 season schedule
Aug. 16: vs. Willard, Won, 3-1
Aug. 22: at Mans. Madison, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24: vs. Ontario, 2 p.m.
Aug. 26: at Sandusky, 6 p.m.
Aug. 28: vs. Tiffin Columbian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4: vs. Clyde, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7: vs. Brookside, 2 p.m.
Sept. 9: vs. Vermilion, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11: at Perkins, 8 p.m.
Sept. 16: vs. Sandusky, 5 p.m.
Sept. 18: at Tiffin Columbian, 5 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Clyde, 6:45 p.m.
Sept. 25: at Vermilion, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: vs. Perkins, 5 p.m.
Oct. 5: at Huron, 12 p.m.
Oct. 8: vs. Ashland, 7 p.m.