Ohio Wesleyan won its school-record seventh consecutive North Coast Athletic Conference championship last season, then assembled a playoff run that culminated in the Bishops’ 10th NCAA Division III semifinal appearance.
Head coach Jay Martin and the Bishops will look to 19 returning lettermen, including five All-NCAC selections, to defend the conference title and make another deep run into the NCAA playoffs.
“We don’t have the depth we’ve had in the last few years,” Martin said, “but we have a good, solid 16-17-18 guys. We should contend for the conference championship and the NCAA tournament again, and I think this is a team that can get in (the NCAA tournament) and win a few games.”
Senior Brian Schaefer (Chatham, N.J.), a first-team All-NCAC selection last year, is the top returnee on the forward line. Schaefer ranked third in the league in scoring with 11 goals and five assists last season.
Junior Kyle Baum (Powell/Olentangy Liberty) won second-team all-conference honors in 2014 after ranking third on the team in scoring, and senior Matt Cohen (Cincinnati/Seven Hills) is another returning starter up front.
Freshman Will Sharer (Avon) was a second-team All-Ohio selection in high school, while freshman Lucas Farmer (Warrenton, Va./Kettle Run) helped his high school team win a state championship.
Senior Lonnie Barnes (Champaign, Ill./Centennial), a second-team all-conference choice last season, and junior Phoenix Neitzelt (Delaware/Hayes) return at the center midfield positions, with seniors Matt DiCesare (Westerville/St. Francis DeSales) and Stephen Coldren (Phoenix, Ariz./Thunderbird) also available.
Seniors Gunnar Bloecher (Lewis Center/Olentangy Orange) and Ricardo Balmaceda (Houston, Texas/The Village School) are back at the right outside midfield spot.
The left outside spot could go to sophomore David Robinett (Cincinnati/Indian Hill), who saw action in 24 games last season, or freshman Jack Shadoan (Dublin/Scioto), an all-district selection in high school.
Junior Neil Wilson (Batavia) could see time at either outside position.
Seniors Evan Lee (Toledo/St. John’s) and Mason Hoge (Mason) return at the center back spots.
Lee was a first-team All-NCAC pick in 2014 and contributed four goals and three assists on the offensive end.
Hoge, whose 2014 season ended in the fourth game, returns to reclaim his starting spot in the backfield.
Sophomores Scott Harmanis (Hilliard/Davidson) and J.J. van der Merwe (Potomac, Md./Churchill) also will look for playing time in the middle.
The Bishops also return both starting outside backs in junior Nick Norman (Cincinnati/Oak Hills) and sophomore Trey Olsen (Northbrook, Ill./Glenbrook North). Norman was an honorable mention All-NCAC pick in 2014.
Freshman Luke Gabbert (Lewis Center/Olentangy Orange), an all-state pick in high school, will challenge for a starting spot, and freshman Phil Foisie (Westport, Conn./Staples) also will be heard from.
In goal, junior Ben Farynowski (Grandview Heights) takes over as the starter. Senior Michael McDermott (Alliance/Marlington) and Kiyan Pirgheybi (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) will provide experienced depth.
Ohio Wesleyan faces another rugged schedule.
The Bishops open the season by hosting Earlham before the Fred Myers-adidas Invitational on Labor Day weekend, featuring Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association foes Kalamazoo and Albion.
A string of regional tests follows, with 2014 NCAA Division III playoff team Thomas More, Southern Athletic Association semifinalist Centre, and Ohio Athletic Conference tournament teams Ohio Northern and Capital highlighting the opposition. In the NCAC, 2014 tournament champion Kenyon, NCAC tournament semifinalists DePauw and Wabash, and traditional rival Denison will be in the middle of another thrilling title chase.
OWU Sports Information contributed to this report.