The Winthrop men's soccer team has turned over an entirely new lineup in two seasons. Coach Rich Posipanko's 2010 team is young but quite talented - a combination he hopes can lead to a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament in November.
Winthrop went 11-6-4 overall last year and lost, 3-2, at Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The team holds down No. 48 in the most recent TopDrawerSoccer.com national college soccer poll.
The Eagles lost five starters from that team: defender Cameron Alksnis, midfielders Stephen Nsereko, Michael Luk and Matt Lacey, as well as forward Matthew Skonicki.
"There are so many unknowns this year, a lot of competition at each position," Posipanko said.
Winthrop has had the Big South's leading scorer each of the last five seasons starting with Saidi Isaac (2005), Daniel Revivo (2006-2008) and Matt Skonicki (2008-2009).
With the uncertainties, it might take six or seven games before positions are settled and Posipanko has the team where he wants it to be.
A few pieces are set.
Miquel Casajuana is the lone senior this season. He is an attacking midfielder from Spain who tallied five goals and three assists as a junior. He was the conference tournament MVP and was named to TopDrawer.com's National Team of the Week.
Matt Horn, a junior who appeared in 17 games in 2009, will start as a midfielder. He and Casajuana are the captains this season.
Both players are smart and make good decisions with the ball, according to Posipanko. A good example came in Sunday's exhibition match with Furman University at Eagle Field: Casajuana noticed the Paladins' keeper playing far away from the goal and chipped a shot from 35 yards into the goal.
Casajuana believes Posipanko might have a difficult time picking starters with all the young talent available.
"We don't have a lot of returning players," Casajuana said. "There is a chance for some of these guys to have a great four-year career at Winthrop."
"There are a lot of new people and we don't know what to expect," Horn said, "but it's cool the way we have chemistry already."
Three other returning starters are Daniel Di Biagio, Enrique Miranda and Adam Skonicki.
Di Biagio, a sophomore defender, was a Second Team All-Big South selection last season. Miranda was the Eagles' keeper in all 21 games in 2009 - his freshman year. Skonicki, a sophomore forward, scored six goals as a freshman and ranked seventh in the conference for points in his first season.
Four freshman who could have an immediate impact are Matt Stinson, Tinotenda Chibharo, Nick Nova and Josh Choice.
Stinson, a midfielder, and Di Biagio played for the Canadian National U-20 team in Spain this summer. The two returned to Winthrop on Sunday.
Chibharo, a midfielder, is one of two freshmen on the team from Zimbabwe; Brandon Forlemu could see some time at forward. Chibharo and Forlemu were National team members for Zimbabwe.
Nova, a defender out of Alpharetta, Ga., is the younger brother of former Winthrop captain Will Nova. Choice is a defender from Thomasville, Ga.
Junior transfer Andres Pullin (UNC Pembroke) was on the Guatemalan National team, giving the Eagles five players with national team experience.
Posipanko assembled a schedule tailored to his young team with three home exhibition matches. The Eagles' first two regular-season contests are at Eagle Field as well. The next exhibition is at 7 p.m. Thursday against UNC Charlotte.
The coach, now in his 22nd year at Winthrop and 32nd year coaching, said the Big South is as balanced as ever. Radford, VMI and UNC Asheville have new coaches to further muddy the picture.
"Six teams could win it," he surmised.