Clarksville, Ark.-Going into his seventh season as Ozarks head men's soccer coach, Dave De Hart welcomes a 2005 team laden with depth, talent and momentum from a 2004 playoff season.
"I’m excited about the year," stated De Hart. "It’s a season of change, but I think from top to bottom we are as solid as we have ever been. Our overall depth will be the team’s strength. Our team goal is to win the ASC and advance to the NCAA tournament. I don’t see why it would be any lower than that." ????? De Hart embraces fifteen letterwinners, including his top three scorers to help the Eagles’ chances of returning to the playoffs for a league-record sixth consecutive year. Additionally, four All-Conference players, Ron Hogsett, Jared Gordon, Lars Nyberg and C.J. Smith, are back. ????? Hogsett, a senior forward, and Gordon, a junior forward, are the top returning offensive duo in the league. Hogsett finished second in the conference in points (32) and tied for seventh in goals (11) last season. He also led the team in shots (61). He ranks third in school history in goals (35), assists (22) and points (92). Gordon ranked tenth in the league in goals (10) and points (24). De Hart will toil with those two and Malcolm Williams at the forward position. The diminutive Williams, who has 55 career games under his belt, can change the pace of the game with his speed. ????? "This is our least questionable position at this point," stated De Hart, who holds a 77-42-5 record at Ozarks. "We are solid there. Ron is one of the top strikers in the conference and has been one of the leading goal scorers in the league over the last three years. He’s no doubt one of the top players in the conference. Jared has had two outstanding years and I look for him to build on that success. Last year he made a transition from being a role player to more of a player we could count on and I think he will continue that this season." ????? The midfield will see a variety of competent players, but De Hart must replace two All-Conference performers at that position. De Hart sees Smith, a senior, to be the backbone of the team. ????? "The central midfield is a little bit of a question mark since we graduated two seniors there," stated De Hart. "Defensively in the midfield we are solid with C.J. He is the heart and soul of our team. He is the type of player that will play anytime, anyplace and anywhere. He will give us a physically strong presence on the field and provides leadership. I think Nate Abbott is ready to step in and take a spot in the central midfield. He has really developed. And if we go with a third player in the midfield I’m quite sure we have that player to fill that position, but I’m just not sure which one it is yet." ????? Talented junior Ryan Skelly and sophomore Darren Clark each provided an offensive spark last season. Skelly collected six goals while ranking third on the team in points (19). Clark added two goals. ????? "I think the contribution of Darren and Ryan playing out wide for us will be significant," stated De Hart. "Ryan had a productive season for us last year. Darren was a starter as a freshman. Those two help me be comfortable with the attack." ????? Seniors Aaron Pierson and Nyberg bring a wealth of experience to the defender positions. Nyberg had three game-winning goals. ???? "I’m not sure what the combination will be right now, but I’m confidant with the returners we have and the newcomers that those spots will be adequately filled," stated De Hart. "Lars is one of the top defenders in the conference. He provides us stability in our defense. We expect him to provide that stability and leadership in the back his senior season. Aaron is coming back from an injury-riddled season and I expect him to be ready to go and will be a large part of our defense. I’m confident defensively we will be strong and do well." ????? De Hart will need to find a replacement for graduated goalkeeper Chris Schultz, who was a four-time All-Conference player. ????? "We will have a new starting goalkeeper," stated De Hart. "I’m very confident that we are solid there. We have three prospects that can do an outstanding job." ????? The Eagles will benefit from a strong incoming freshmen class, according to De Hart. ????? "There are several freshmen that are really strong, good-looking young players," stated De Hart. "The battle for playing time should be quite interesting." ????? "We may have some inexperience at the beginning of the season," stated De Hart. "Some of that is based upon change, not necessarily because they are a new player. Some of it might be a player changing positions. But I’m confident if inexperience is a weakness at the beginning, it won’t be weakness as the season progresses. Also, our continuity may need to be rekindled and rebuilt." ????? The Eagles are coming off a 11-9-0 overall record and a 8-5-0 conference mark in 2004. A tough non-conference schedule should again give the Eagles, who suffered six losses by one goal last season, valuable experience once the conference schedule starts in mid-September. ????? "The competition level in the conference is pretty high," stated De Hart. "We take no one lightly. I think the depth on your team helps since we play conference games on back-to-back days." ????? The Eagles begin the season on September 3 in a home match against Central Bible College at 4:00 p.m