When the Columbus North boys soccer team began practice this month, coach Andy Glover had numerous holes to fill.
The Bull Dogs lost 13 seniors, including nine starters, from a team that went 19-1-1 and won Conference Indiana, sectional and regional titles and spent nearly the entire season ranked No. 1 in the state.
But two spots where North was solid and secure were on the back line. Seniors Andrew Gold and Brayton Thornburg were starting defenders last season and bring back the most experience to this year’s squad.
“We have a wealth of experience on the team,” Glover said. “They bring the most match experience to the table. They’re definitely important pieces to the puzzle, and the leadership qualities that they’re bringing to the table and experience are both very helpful.”
Thornburg played in 19 games last season and netted a goal and four assists. Gold played in all 21 games and had an assist, while helping lead a defense that allowed only 14 goals all season.
“Both are very disciplined on both sides of the ball,” Glover said. “They do the simple things right the majority of the time, meaning they play within themselves, and that makes them exceptionally effective in the brand that we play.”
Gold and Thornburg won’t necessarily spend all of their time on the defensive end this season. Glover has said he plans to move some players around at different positions.
While Gold played in the back in last week’s season-opening 1-0 win over East Central, Thornburg saw some time on defense and in the midfield.
“There are so many variables that drive where a kid plays,” Glover said. “That could be anything ranging from injury to the context of a very competitive game. Circumstances change, and things unfold, and the wonderful thing about our team and those two players is that we adapt, and we accept our roles and responsibilities and it works.”
Thornburg is helping solidify a midfield that was depleted with the loss of Andre Abedian, Riley Belding and Will Bridgeman, all of whom helped lead the Bull Dogs to a Class 2A state runner-up finish in 2011 and a 2A state title in 2012.
“It’s a different role for me, but I have some experience there in my younger JV days,” Thornburg said. “With Andre, Will and Riley being out of the center of the midfield, it’s just having to step into that role and take charge in there with (senior) Jason Fier and (junior) Tyler Heathcote. I feel like we have a good group of guys this year that have stepped up and can get the job done.”
“We’ve been a deep team over the past three or four years, and I think we’re a pretty deep team this year, too,” Gold said.
Gold plans to play college soccer. He has visited and talked to coaches at DePauw, Bellarmine and Dayton and is thinking of majoring in economics or psychology.
“I’m kind of in the middle of the process with all three of them right now,” Gold said.
Thornburg is looking at Baldwin-Wallace and Miami (Ohio), although Miami doesn’t have men’s soccer.
“I’m looking at a couple schools, but if (soccer) doesn’t work out, at the end of the day, education is what’s going to get us through life,” Thornburg said. “I would like to follow in my dad’s footsteps a little bit and maybe not take over his business, but sports business definitely I’m looking into.”
North has been off since that season-opening win on Aug. 19. The Bull Dogs resume action tonight at Indianapolis Cathedral and play archrival Columbus East on Saturday night at Richard Wigh Soccer Complex.
“I’m enthusiastic about this year,” Gold said. “I think we have the potential to do a lot of good stuff. Obviously, we have a way to go to improve right now, still, but I think we’re a team that’s pretty competitive, and it’s coming together well.”
“I feel like our training has been hard, but it’s been good, too,” Thornburg said. “We’ve been doing a lot of possession stuff and have been pushing ourselves in practice every day. It’s been hot, and we’ve had to deal with that heat, but the first game wasn’t bad. We just have to finish some opportunities.”
The ultimate objective remains to finish the season the way they did two years ago.
“The goal every year I’ve been here has been to win state, and I think we have a realistic chance of doing that,” Gold said. “We have the guys for it. We have the coaching staff for it. We have people who have been there and know what it takes.”
“At the end of the day, a state championship is what you aim for every year and what you fight for,” Thornburg said. “I think we can get back there this year and hopefully get it done again.”