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Eyes on Big Ten prize for Ohio State men’s soccer

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With the Ohio State men’s soccer team’s roster in limbo and its schedule loaded with tough opponents, coach John Bluem seems to have his work cut out for him in 2012. Despite the obstacles, the team’s goal remains to compete for a Big Ten title.

The Buckeyes begin regular season play Friday with a roster comprised of 9 returning starters, 13 letter winners – seven freshmen and four transfers – and an injured Ben Killian, the senior defender who started 16 matches for OSU last season.

OSU is also rebounding from the losses of former all-Big Ten goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who signed with the Columbus Crew after the 2011 season, and two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, David Tiemstra, who was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in Major League Soccer’s Supplemental Draft.

Bluem is confident as the season’s opening kick draws near.

“I’m pretty happy where we’re at right now,” Bluem said. “We have a long ways to go still, I think, and a very difficult schedule.”

Minor injuries have affected several players, but Bluem said he expects to see players integrated back in the lineup throughout the season.

Killian, who is out six to eight weeks with a broken foot, is a different story.

“Losing Ben was tough,” Bluem said, “because he had been a starter for three years.”

Senior midfielder and team captain Austin McAnena said the team was keeping their eyes on the Big Ten Championship prize through the pain.

“I think we can for sure win,” McAnena said. “We’ve got to be in it 100 percent.”

Junior defender and captain Sage Gardner agreed that the season focus is conference play and conference wins.

“I want to win a Big Ten championship really bad, and coming back from last year and not being able to make the championship,” Gardner said. “I want a chance to go after it again.”

With McAnena and Gardner leading the team, the 11 new players also bring opportunities for the team.

McAnena said freshman forward Louie Berra and defender Zach Mason could make a difference.

“Zach works super hard, and Louie is very confident and very comfortable around the ball,” McAnena said.

With ranked competition in No. 12 Indiana, No. 20 Northwestern, No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 Akron on the schedule, Bluem said no game will be an easy win, but he still feels positive about the season with the returning starters and new players alike. 

“As a group of players, our target every year, first and foremost, is to win a Big Ten Championship,” said Bluem.

Noting that team chemistry helps win games, Bluem said the team is bonding very well and supporting each other ahead of Friday’s opener against the Dayton Flyers.

“The core values that we look for in players (are) to be competitive, to work hard, to be a good teammate,” Bluem said. “It’s there.”

Friday’s game against the Flyers is scheduled to kick off at 7:30 p.m. in Dayton.  

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