Century has established itself as the top boys soccer program in North Dakota, and the quartet of Matt MacArthur, Dominic Neameyer, Brad Kelly and Seth Kreft has played a huge role in the success of the two-time defending state champs.
Now that role is about to change.
Kreft, Kelly, Neameyer and MacArthur have been contributors on the varsity level since their freshman season in 2010. But now they are seniors, and that changes everything.
“I think to be a leader, you have to follow,” Kreft said. “We’ve followed for three years. Now it’s our time to lead. … We’re the top dogs. We don’t have somebody to push us. Now we’re pushing the younger players.”
They’re going to have to push hard to reach the standards the Patriots have set in recent years. In 2009, the Patriots began their current streak of four straight finals appearances — the first two were losses were losses by a single goal, one in double-overtime, the last two victories. In every one of those years, the team set a school record for winning percentage, including last year’s 15-2-1 mark.
That tradition is a motivator for the Patriots.
“We’re going for that three-peat,” MacArthur said. “We have only four seniors, but I think we have a very capable of group of young guys, and I think with us four, we can make a deep run at a state title again this year.”
That group of four seniors has been playing together since they were about 10 years old, and all made the jump to varsity as freshmen.
MacArthur, a center back, made a huge impact immediately. He earned second-team all-state honors as both a freshman and sophomore. He was just as good if not better last year and brings a combination of speed and strength to Century’s backfield.
“Matt is kind of a brute force,” Century coach Nate Ulness said. “He loves to run at people and run through people.”
Neameyer, who also was a starter as a freshman, brings composure to the midfield, but also some offensive firepower. Neameyer, who will play attacking midfielder and maybe a bit of forward this year, had six goals and three assists in 2012, earning second-team all-state honors.
“I think Dom is really an X factor player for us,” MacArthur said. “He’s a guy who can pop up in special situations. He really can score those big goals for us we need when other people aren’t producing.”
Neameyer, who was also an all-state kicker on the Century football team, brings something else to the equation.
“Dominic has one thing over Brad and I, especially in the midfield — he has size,” Kreft said. “He uses his size really well. He can outmuscle a lot of people in the state.”
Kelly, another four-year starter, is known for his technical skill and passing and dribbling ability. As a junior he had four goals and two assists.
“Being a smaller guy, I try to be as aggressive as possible,” Kelly said. “I try to play a quick one-touch, two-touch game.”
Ulness describes Kreft, another midfielder, as a “cheeky” player capable of poaching goals.
“Seth is a very good attacking player and a little crafty guy,” Neameyer said.
Nick MacArthur, Matt’s younger brother, and Wyatt Holwagner will join the veterans in the midifield. Jacob Richter, Christian Bowlinger and Neameyer will likely see time at forward. In the backfield will be Matt MacArthur, Anthony Morrell, Jason Crosby and Cody Dewitt. Zach Sweep will get the nod in goal.
Century’s four seniors are determined to end their careers with a third straight title.
“One last crack at it,” Kelly said. “We want to go out on top.“
Bismarck was such a young team in 2012 that the biggest difference in the 2013 Demons will be sheer size.
“The thing that struck me this year was just how much they’ve grown, how much physically bigger they are,” BHS coach Tim Green said with a laugh.
Despite their inexperience, the Demons had a solid year, going 10-6-2 and placing sixth at state. Bismarck lost all-staters Cooper Cox and Todd Kessler to graduation, but have a host of players that got time as freshmen and sophomores.
“The difference is the learning curve that comes with playing varsity has been shortened,” Green said.
Bismarck’s strength will be the midfield. Cole Olson (14 goals, 13 assists) was a first-team all-stater last year, and Cody Evanson was an all-region pick. Cole Lawrence and Michael Hertz will be on the outside.
All-region selection Riley Benson will be joined by Max Hager, Bryce Nybo and Craig Snow in the backfield. Michael Matzke takes over for Kessler, a four-year starter, in goal.
“Scoring goals is going to be our question mark,” Green said. “I think we’ll score enough to keep up. ... Of course we want to be first in the WDA, but Century is so stinking good.”
Seniors Ben Weisbeck, a first-team all-stater last year, and Ryan Martire, a second-teamer, lead St. Mary’s, which went 9-9-2 and did not place at state.
Weisbeck had 16 goals and five assists in 2012, while Martire added three and eight, respectively. They are among seven returning starters.
“Besides having tons of varsity experience, our senior class are great leaders on and off the field,” first-year coach Peter Manstrom said.
Weisbeck will be joined by Marcus Churchill at forward. Martire heads up an experienced midfield that includes veteran starters Ross Kopp and Dane Fischer and newcomer Ben Maherer.
All-region pick Isaiah Schwindt, Nathan Vetter and Jacob Brucker all started in the backfield, and they will be joined by Daniel Neff. Jordan Smith will be the new keeper.
“We have talent in every area of the field,” Manstrom said. “... Our defensive, midfield and forward positions all have great talent, so there isn’t anywhere on the field where we really feel we might be weak.”
Mandan is coming off a rough season (1-16-0) during which the Braves just scored three goals. None of the players who registered a point are listed on this year’s roster.
Brayden Hanson and Peter Liffrig are seniors penciled into the lineup for second-year coach Tyler Gerhardt. The rest of the squad will be junior-dominated.
“I’ve got a very positive feeling right now,” Gerhardt said. “We’re still trying to shore up some roster issues.
“We may be slow getting out of the gate with the East-West Classic and Century right out of the gate,” he added. “That will be a tough benchmark, but I’m anxious to see how our kids stack up. I’m optimistic about how they progress.”