The UB men's soccer team, coming off a sub-par 2000 season, will have to look to the strength of only four seniors to lead them through 2001.
This will be one of the youngest teams in recent years for the program, with seven freshmen and have six sophomores on the roster. Last May, the team, which finished 6-10-2 (0-5-0 in the MAC), graduated eight players.
Bulls Head Coach John Astudillo is intent on quickly integrating the young players into regular play.
"Inexperience is going to hurt us, but we can't use that as an excuse for too long," Astudillo said. He said he expects that the team could overcome its inexperience in the span of a few games.
This season, the Bulls are led by midfielders Joe Peplinski and Bill Norberg, and defensemen Kevin Pitra and Matt Yeates.
Also returning to the roster are six juniors. Goalkeeper Brian Wozniak, Geoff Thompson, who was named 2000's most improved player, and Jason Seymour have all been with the program since their freshman year.
Joining them will be transfers Dan Wielechowski, Mike Peplinksi, who will play alongside his older brother Joe, and Jenton Esworthy, who scored the winning goal in the Bulls' game against Army last Sunday.
Thirteen underclassmen round out the squad. Astudillo admitted that turning these players into a cohesive unit will be one of the season's major challenges.
"We need to take time with the young players, especially the freshmen, they have definitely made a contribution already. We also need to work with some of the returning players who didn't get a lot of time last season," he said.
Opponents to keep an eye on this season will be longtime MAC rival Akron, who play the Bulls, in Buffalo, on Sept. 21.
"Akron has already tied National Champions Connecticut this season, so you know that will be a tough game," said Astudillo. "The University of Kentucky will also be a tough team to beat."
When asked how far Astudillo thinks his squad can go, his reply was tenacious. "Even in a conference like ours, we never say die."
He added that although road games may be difficult at first, he expects the team to constantly improve their strength and skills.
Astudillo also claims that even if no major breakthroughs occur during the season, one will occur at the MAC tournament in November.
"Every team expects to get better as the season progresses, by the end of the season if we haven't improved, then something is wrong. We've proven in the past that we are a strong tournament team," he said.
UB opens at home with the Bulls Fall Invitational on Saturday against Central Michigan, and plays Siena College Sunday. Both games are at RAC field and begin at 2:30 p.m.
"The Central Connecticut game will be tough, but I think you can expect a team of a lot of surprises," said Astudillo.