Clarksville, Ark.-The 2003 U of O men's soccer team has a wealth of depth and talent, and it may just be enough to put the Eagles in contention for their second American Southwest Conference East Division championship within the last three seasons.
Head coach Dave DeHart has a solid core of returning players and feels the squad’s depth will play a major factor in the team’s success. "Our strengths lie within the quality depth of the team and within our midfield," said DeHart, who has posted a conference best 46-17-1 record the last three seasons at Ozarks. "With so many players, we have an opportunity to have incredibly competitive training sessions day after day. I think the competition for playing time is such that each player is going to make one another better, and the players who are willing to step up and understand the importance of practicing well will make our team better. That’s the type of atmosphere we’ve created." Offensive production should come from a talented collection of scoring threats which include senior Ricky Herrera, sophomore Ron Hogsett and newcomers Will Brahic and Justin Goodman. Freshman Jared Gordon is also expected to provide an offensive lift. Herrera, a three-time All-ASC forward, ranks second in school history in career goals (44) and points (104). Herrera led the conference in goals with 14 and was named to two All-America squads last season. Hogsett, meanwhile, had an impressive freshman campaign at forward, earning division Offensive Freshman of the Year honors after leading the league in points (31) last season. Brahic earned NSCAA All-America honors at Modesto Junior College (Calif.) last year while Goodman played for NCAA Division I Western Kentucky University a year ago. Both Brahic and Goodman are expected to provide offensive firepower in their roles as midfielders. "We return the conference’s leading point and goal scorer, so that’s a big plus," said DeHart. "I’m excited about what Will and Justin will bring to our team, too. And, we return a defense that recorded a school record ten shutouts. I think we will have a balanced team both offensively and defensively." Defensively, the Eagles must replace four starters, including Aaron Coats, who earned All-America honors last season. However, sophomore defender Lars Nyberg is expected to perform well after earning honorable mention all-conference a year ago. And, junior goalkeeper Chris Schultz is back after leading the conference in shutouts (9) while finishing third in goals against average (.92). "I think Lars may be the best defender in the conference and I expect big things from Chris," said DeHart. "However, our outside flank and marking back positions are up in the air. It’s going to be interesting to see who of the many guys vying for those spots step up." A difficult schedule early on, which includes perennial powers Hardin-Simmons and McMurry, will challenge the Eagles. The Eagles, who were picked to finish second in the ASC preseason coaches poll, also face a talented UT-Dallas which defeated the squad twice last season. The Eagles finished second in the East division last season with an 8-4-0 record while ending the year with an 13-7-0 overall record. "Losing two games to UT-Dallas last season seems to be a motivating factor for this group of guys," said DeHart. The incoming freshmen class has DeHart excited about the possibility of contending for their fourth consecutive post-season appearance this season. "Our freshman class is the best since I’ve been here," said DeHart. "We did really well in Texas this year, especially in the Plano area. If our freshmen will be patience and our retention remains high, I think this group, coupled with the guys that are already here, has a chance to be strong." For the Eagles to regain their perch atop the East division, DeHart believes his squad needs to improve on their technical skills as a team. "Overall, I think we need to improve on our technical ability from last season," said DeHart. "We were a bit ragged in our play at times last season. I think we have a very good team coming in, but it’s new and it’s young so I expect it will take us some time to gel." The Eagles open the season August 29 when they travel to Abilene, Texas, to take on Hardin-Simmons University.