FAIRMONT - Two-time all-state soccer selection and all-time leading scorer Grant Becker graduated.
All-South Central Conference goalkeeper and most valuable player Matt Tennyson and his eight shutouts are gone, too.
All-SCC choices Lucas Miles, Joe Washa, Oscar Svenfelt and Dan Simmering have long since departed Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont as well.
READY FOR KICKOFF — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinal boys soccer team kicking off the season by traveling to St. Peter tonight, include, front row (l-r): Carson Hurn, Brock Johnson, Trason Arens, Ben Mitchell and Ryan Busche. Second row: Evan Ward, Ben Timmerman, Derek Hunwardsen, Joe Nordquist, Dillan Hall and Arik Skrove. Third row: Henrique Marquez, Sam Havnen, Leyton Becker, Austin Becker, Trevor Iverson, Peter Nielsen and Drew Anderson. Back row: Head coach Jeff Kot, assistant coach Grady Lenort and assistant coach Brady Meyer. Not pictured: Brian Jensen and Anthony Shimon. (Photo courtesy of Randy Chirpich/www.fairmontsports.com)
When posed the question of how he was going to replace nine starters from last year's Section 2A runner-up and co-SCC championship team, Fairmont Area boys soccer mentor Jeff Kot paused for a moment and simply pointed to the neatly-groomed field.
"With those players," Kot said with a grin.
Kot's steadfast demeanor, wry sense of humor and knowledge of the game have been essential in the eight-year program's only varsity head boys coach building a perennial league power and force to be reckoned with during the postseason.
"It's definitely a rebuilding year after graduating six all-conference players from last season," said Kot, whose lineup opens the 2013 schedule by hitting the road to St. Peter tonight for a 7 p.m. SCC clash with the Saints. "Despite being a young team, I think we have good skills, but outside of Derek (Hunwardsen) and Evan (Ward), they don't have much experience of playing at the varsity level."
Ward, who earned honorable mention all-league accolades in 2012, and Hunwardsen each return to the starting lineup, with both junior letterwinners learning new positions this fall.
The hard-working Ward will make the transition from defense to center midfielder, while Hunwardsen moves from forward to the stopper spot.
"We'll probably start off the season by playing with one striker, and hope to also score with our two center mids," said Kot. "Just think of our striker like a setter in volleyball. Look for that position to set the table for our offense by working to the corners and looking for our mids pushing up.
"Our stoppers will then push up behind our center mids to help out."
Junior Joe Nordquist, who earned varsity minutes as the season progressed a year ago, and top returning goal scorer - senior Brock Johnson - will handle the Cardinals' scoring and playmaking duties at striker. Johnson netted five goals and distributed four assists last fall.
"Unfortunately, we only have four seniors, but our juniors have played as a group for a number of years, so that should be helpful in giving us some depth," said Kot.
Trason Arens - one of those seniors - will handle the goalkeeping duties this season, senior Ben Mitchell will fill a spot as an outside midfielder, while senior Carson Hurn will see time at center midfielder.
"Trason looks good at the keeper position (during the preseason), and made some great saves against Worthington during our scrimmage," said Kot. "He might play some striker, but he'll probably handle 90 percent of our keeping duties."
Sam Havnen and Ben Timmerman, who each netted varsity minutes last season, will represent two of the 10 juniors on Fairmont Area's opening-day roster, but both are recovering from injuries.
"We're dropping like flies early on, but we should get both of them back soon," Kot said in reference to his pair of outside middies.
The junior duo of Peter Nielsen and Ryan Busche will join Hunwardsen as stoppers, while the junior tandem of Dillan Hall and Arik Skrove will contribute to the defense.
Skrove also will join sophomore Anthony Shimon in handling the Cardinals' sweeper duties, while junior Brian Jensen and sophomore Drew Anderson will help anchor the defensive wall.
Sophomores Austin Becker and Trevor Iverson, along with freshman Leyton Becker, will round out the varsity roster in the midfield.
"It's rare that I bring up a freshman to play at this level, but Leyton Becker turned in a strong showing at our scrimmage and has good skills," said Kot.
So, with a relatively youthful roster and limited varsity experience returning, what is Kot's outlook for the upcoming season?
"One of our goals is to win the conference championship again. It might be more of a challenge, but it would be nice to win it five times in a row," said Kot.
Kot expects 2012 co-SCC champion Waseca and long-time rival St. Peter to represent the top challenges within the league, while defending Section 2A champion Mankato East and Mankato West - in addition to Worthington - will be the early favorites in the playoffs.
Brady Meyer returns to the Cardinals' junior varsity sideline for another coaching campaign, while Grady Lenort joins the red-and-white staff at the C-squad level.