FAIRMONT - A familiar face in a new place.
Chris Sturdy became Fairmont Area's second-ever head varsity boys soccer coach when he kicked off the first official day of practice on Aug. 11.
Sturdy, who replaced the Cardinal boys program's original head coach Jeff Kot - who resigned after eight years at the helm, earned the promotion after serving as the Fairmont Area girls soccer program's C-squad coach in 2012 and girls junior varsity mentor last fall.
KICKSTARTING THE SEASON — Members of the Fairmont Area Cardinals boys soccer team opening the season by playing host to New Ulm at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Darrin Thingstad, Leyton Becker, Austin Becker and Jake Mitchell. Second row: Cameron Militello, Juan Murillo, Ashford Colvin, Noah Becker, Jarrod Daniel, Tony Joseph, Trevor Iverson and Tom Havnen. Third row: Head coach Chris Sturdy, Dillan Hall, Hunter Jorgensen, Drew Anderson, Luke Simpson, Ethan Lubenow, Tyler Head, Dominic Armitage, Zac DeWitt and assistant coach Brady Meyer. Back row: Kyle Tromanhauser Jr., Ryan Busche, Ben Timmerman, Derek Hunwardsen, Joe Nordquist, Sam Havnen, Evan Ward, Peter Nielsen and Arik Skrove. Not pictured: Anthony Shimon. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"It was difficult to leave the girls program, but it was difficult to not accept the head varsity boys coaching job," said Sturdy, who teaches 10th- and 11th-grade English at Fairmont High School.
Now, Sturdy, who played four years of club soccer at the University of Minnesota Duluth, will look to rebuild a program decimated by graduation a year ago.
The first-year head varsity mentor will rely on a solid and healthy returning nucleus to help engineer the Cardinals' return to the winning side of the ledger this fall.
Senior tri-captain Evan Ward steps back onto the friendly confines of Kot Soccer Complex on Friday during the Cardinals' 7 p.m. opener against New Ulm after earning all-South Central Conference accolades for a second consecutive season.
"Evan brings leadership, intensity and speed to our defense. We need a talker back there and he fits that role perfectly," said Sturdy. "He brings communication to the entire field for us."
Senior Brian Jensen, who earned honorable mention all-conference honors a year ago, will join Ward in the defensive line at an outside position.
"He's like the Tasmanian Devil in his ability to take the ball away from an opponent. He's tenacious and sure-footed," Sturdy said in reference to the hard-working Jensen.
Sophomore Leyton Becker and junior Anthony Shimon will fill the other outside and middle defensive spots, respectively, with senior Dillan Hall and sophomore Dominic Armitage adding depth to the back line.
"Anthony gives us the needed height to help us clear corner kicks near the net, while Leyton is like a younger version of Brian Jensen," Sturdy said. "Leyton's smart, and really picked up our new defense right away."
Similar to Leyton Becker, Hall proved a quick study of the Cardinals' defensive formation, according to Sturdy. Meanwhile, Armitage will look to bounce back from an injury that wiped out the majority of his freshman campaign in 2013.
Senior tri-captain Derek Hunwardsen returns to provide stability to the team's midfielders again after turning in a solid season last fall.
"Derek is the glue between our forwards and defenders. He's always checking back into the right space and that's a big plus," said Sturdy. "I told him that he needs to be a rock and able play the entire 80 minutes.
"He's got iron lungs, good vision of the field and great touch (with the ball)."
Senior Peter Nielsen joins Hunwardsen as a center midfielder, while senior tri-captain Ben Timmerman and senior Ryan Busche fill the outside midfielders' spots.
"Peter passes well, is a smart player and is aware of where everyone's at all of the time," said Sturdy. "Ryan always wants the ball, has a solid cross and is just a brick wall for us.
"Ben Timmerman is a jester to the max and knows how to alleviate stressful situations, but when he steps on the field, he's all business."
Sturdy anticipates sophomore Ashford Colvin, sophomore Noah Becker and senior Arik Skrove supplying depth to the midfield.
"Ashford will play a couple of junior varsity halves and then play a half of varsity for us. We'll expect him to become a leader at the JV level and eventually develop into that role at the varsity in time," said Sturdy. "Noah has a great touch and a solid shot, while also being a great distributor of the ball."
The veteran senior tandem of Sam Havnen and Joe Nordquist will spearhead the Cardinals' offensive rushes from their forward positions, with junior Austin Becker filtering into the mix.
"When I think of Sam, I think of the word 'quickness.' He and Joe work well together and we're looking for them to do more for us, and we'll look to give them better support," said Sturdy. "Each player has a great nose for the goal and dribbles well, while Austin is a great passer and works hard."
Sophomore Jarrod Daniel, sophomore Juan Murillo and senior Kyle Tromanhauser Jr. will compete for minutes between the pipes, with Sturdy still unsure on which goalkeeper will get the starting nod in Friday's 7 p.m. season-opener.
"All three have different strengths, but which ever way I go for our opener, I don't think there's a wrong choice," said Sturdy.
Brady Meyer and Grady Lenort return to handle the junior varsity and C-squad coaching duties, respectively.