Dragons reload after losing 18 seniors

NEW PALESTINE — Player turnover is a routine part of high school athletics, but for the 2017 edition of the New Palestine boys soccer team, it’s a bigger hurdle than usual.

Due to losing 18 seniors from last year’s team that went 9-7, second-year coach Justin Sass is rebuilding on the fly.

“Losing 18 players of any age is tough,” Sass said. “But to lose 18 seniors is definitely a unique challenge.”

Three players with varsity experience are returning for this year’s Dragons: seniors Jake Long at center back, Carson Sams at left back and Holton Gwaltney in the midfield.

With a dearth of upperclassmen, the Dragons will be relying on underclassmen and other newcomers to fill out its starting eleven. Sophomore midfielder John Moore has impressed Sass so far, along with freshman forward Colby Sharp.

“Moore has put in a ton of work this offseason,” Sass said. “And Sharp is like a little spark plug that plays with great physicality and has some potential.”

Sass has even turned to some intra-school recruiting efforts to get players for this year’s squad.

“Conner Kelly was a transfer from Beech Grove who I convinced to come out for the team while talking to him in the weight room,” Sass said. “Also Buzz Wells is back after being in our program his freshman and sophomore years.”

The exact formation the Dragons will use is unknown at this time, much like this year’s roster.

“We are still trying to find our best eleven, and once we do that we will build our formations based on those players’ strengths,” Sass stated.

With the influx of new players, the focus for Sass’ program has shifted to a re-branding effort.

“We are trying to build a blue-collar mentality and have guys give 110 percent each practice,” Sass said. “In my mind, the best New Pal teams of the past have had that mentality, and we’ve gotten away from that these last few years. If every player can look back after each practice and say they’ve given their all, even if committing a few technical mistakes, I think we will have success.”