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Knowing numbers will come in handy when watching the University of Mary soccer team this season.

Head coach Sarah Cook will be shuttling players in and out with a roster full of interchangeable parts.

"I think we have a pretty well-rounded team with a good balance between returning players and incoming players," Cook said. "We're in a situation where from game-to-game we probably could have a new person in almost every single spot.

"Depth is something we certainly have."

The Marauders open the season on Thursday with a neutral-site game against Black Hills State in Billings, Mont. Today's game starts at 2 p.m. The Marauders face MSU-Billings on Saturday at 4.

The roster includes a bumper crop of 11 freshmen, plus eight seniors, five juniors and two sophomores. The newcomers have plenty of accomplished players they can turn to for guidance. The Marauders have advanced to the final four of the Northern Sun tournament two years in a row.

"We're excited about the potential of this team. We are working a lot of new players in and that takes time," Cook said. "But I think as we look forward, we feel like this team can compete at a high level, if we continued to improve as the season goes on."

Typically stingy, that should continue this season with several key defenders returning. Seniors Kylee Welch, a three-year starter, will anchor the back line. Tiffany Ohlhauser, a fellow senior and Century High grad also will play a key role. Senior Malia Brudvik and junior Cassidy Pierce form a strong wall in front of sophomore goalkeeper Madisyn Waltman, who is back for her second year in frame.

"With the experience we have in the back-line area, and with our goalkeeper, we feel good about where we're at," Cook said. "Now it's about figuring out how to put the pieces together and being able to put the ball in the back of the net."

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The Marauders don't have much returning scoring punch.

Cook is looking for big things out of junior Hannah Richter, one of four former Century players on the team. Richter had two goals and four assists last season while playing multiple positions.

"She'll be in more of an attacking role this year. She'll be a threat with her pace," Cook said.

Senior Sydney Burrell had two goals last season and is, "Explosive and good in the air."

Midfield duties will be shared among many players, including Taylor Pettigrew -- who has overcome two major knee injures -- junior college transfer Sam Guzman and freshmen Noelle Vigneri, Marriann Senftner of St. Mary's and Yasmina Dokara of West Fargo. Another local player, of which there are many on the team -- Rachel Neff of St. Mary's -- also will have a role.

"We have a lot of local kids, in particular a lot of kids from Bismarck that will help us out this year," Cook said. "We have really good North Dakota representation on our team."

The two games this weekend don't count in the Northern Sun standings, but it's good preparation for what's ahead.

"We take this weekend a little bit separately from conference play," Cook said. "These games are important. They're significant for our regional ranking. It's a tournament-format similar to the end of the season, and it will get us ready for our conference schedule.

"It's good way for our team to start the season. After these two games we'll have a better understanding of where we're at."

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Follow Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig on Twitter: @dave_selvig

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