(Photo Courtesy of Cleveland State Athletics)
Last summer, Andy German earned his first college head coaching job, taking over the reigns following the departure of the program’s founding head coach Dylan Sheridan.
And while German had been on staff since the Vikings’ inaugural season, which made the transition to head coach much more seamless, it wasn’t an easy or usual first year, or as many call it, year zero for German. At the time the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Vikings held a 2-5 record, going 2-2 after an 0-3 start which included an overtime loss to open the season.
While the first year of the German era got cut short and featured less wins than they would have liked, the Vikings did hit a huge program milestone. German’s first win as a head coach came by way of a 12-11 victory against No. 16 Air Force, which marked the Vikings’ first win over a ranked opponent in program history.
Coming into the 2021, it will be pretty much a second year zero for German. And not only due to the fact that the 2020 season was cut short, but also due to the Vikings bringing back a heap of fifth-year seniors following the NCAA’s ruling that grants spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility.
With help from Cleveland State’s Victory Lap program, the Vikings will return nine seniors from the 2020. Among those nine include, midfielders Noah Gleeson, Nick Wendel, and Stephen Masi. All three made saw significant playing time (Wendel and Masi made multiple starts) and made an impact on the offensive end.
On the back end, Brandon Ruditz is the most impact fifth-year returnee. A three-year starter, he is the most experienced pole they have coming back in 2021 and will be a tremendous piece of this defense. Redshirt senior defenseman Quinn Lemeke will also be a force on the back end for the Vikings this coming season. After missing his sophomore season due to injury, Lemeke has cemented himself as a full-time starter on the Viking defense over the past two seasons. The two provide a sense of veteran leadership amongst a defense and a team that looks to still have some younger contributors despite so much experience returning.
Some of that youth on the defensive side includes goalie Gareth Haigh. As a first-year starter during his sophomore season in 2020, Haigh posted a 41.4 save percentage and made 63 saves. He certainly had some forgettable games, but showed up when needed and looked to be finding his footing even more in the games leading up to the season being cancelled
Offensively, outside of Gleeson, the Vikings return a heap of talent. And that crop is lead by senior attackman Tristan Hanna. As a junior, Hanna served as a full-time starter for the Vikings for the second consecutive season and led the team in points (14G/5A). Senior Michael Wilson also popped off as a junior last season, recording 15 points (6G/9A).
Ryan Haigh could be described as the Vikings’ breakout star at attack last season. During his sophomore campaign in 2020, Haigh was thrust into a starting role for the first time in his college career and found success immediately. He posted 14 points (12G/2A) during the Vikings’ seven contest.
With those impact guys on attack back, in addition to the returning fifth-year guys, the Vikings offense could flourish like never before this upcoming season. Averaging 9.53 goals and 15 points, overall, per game through seven contests last season, the Vikings should take another step in the right direction in 2021. And that looks even more likely when you factor in all the talent that they bring back, which will benefit them greatly.
And while having a solid, experienced defense will help aide the offense, so will having a standout faceoff man. And for the Vikings, that is the one spot where things do look a little foggy, as they lose a program cornerstone in Danny Tesler to graduation. Junior Cole Anderson is their top returning faceoff man. He went 5-for-12 last season as a sophomore. Sophomore Charlie Williams, who saw very little action last season, and freshman Evan Moskwa are their other two options.
Despite the obvious question mark at the faceoff dot, the Vikings look to bring a pretty solid team into the 2021 season. And one that certainly has a ton of experience, but also has a fair share of young contributors on both ends. That could certainly play into the Vikings favor, depth wise, and lead to a pretty strong season in the season year of the German era.