By Jessica Weihrauch
Ohio State Athletics Communications

With eight letterwinners gone including two All-Americans and Ohio State’s all-time leading shutout goalkeeper and a coveted Big Ten Title to defend, the 2008 season will be a challenging one for the Ohio State men’s soccer team.

However, many Buckeyes who were young players last season are now the seasoned veterans who are ready and willing to defend their title.

“We are growing as a team right now and are incorporating new players into the mix, which isn’t always an easy thing to do,” said Doug Verhoff, who will be a junior defender next season. “Spring practices have been a little bit of a struggle for us but we know we still have a job to do. We just received our Big Ten Championship rings and those definitely put back that spark and desire to win another title.”

The win over Indiana last season marked the first time Ohio State had captured the Big Ten Title since 2000, then it was onto the NCAA tournament for a shot at being national champions. The Buckeyes sailed through the second and third rounds with wins over Louisville and UC Santa Barbara, sprinted passed Bradley in the quarterfinals and defeated Massachusetts in the semifinals of the College Cup.

It was on to face Wake Forest for the national title. The Buckeyes were rolling at the start of the game but fell short within the last few minutes and suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 loss.

“Losing to Wake Forest was really disappointing, but we had to put that behind us and focus on the upcoming season,” Danny Irizarry, who will be a senior midfielder this fall, said. “We learned a lot from that game and it has only motivated us to get better.”

Irizarry and Verhoff are among seven starters returning this fall and it will be up to them to lead the Buckeyes to another successful season. They will have the daunting task of replacing seven outstanding seniors who set many records last season. Seniors Xavier Balc, Eric Brunner and Casey Latchem, along with junior Roger Espinoza who signed with Generation adidas and left for the MLS draft, are gone.

Balc and Brunner were first-team All Americans and both started in all 26 games last season. Balc was also named offensive MVP of the Big Ten Championship and holds Ohio State’s record in career assists (35), career shots (261) and season assists (14). Latchem, who also started all 26 games, was defensive MVP of the Big Ten Championship and holds the OSU record for shutouts (14).

Even though only three of the seniors were starters, the remaining four saw plenty of game action and were tremendous contributors to the success of last season.

It will be tough to replace the outstanding players lost but Irizarry and Verhoff are looking forward to becoming the new leaders for the team.

“There definitely is a sense of leadership for us because we have a lot of experience over the younger guys,” said Irizarry. “We have a great recruiting class this year and we are excited to help them. Losing our seniors was a huge loss for us but we will just have to plug in the new guys into their spots and only get better as we go.”

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