Clarksville, Ark.-After leading the American Southwest Conference in nearly every offensive category and rewriting the school record books a year ago, the ASC East division defending champions are looking for ways to continue as the conference's premier offensive juggernaut.
The Eagles ended last season with a school-best 18-3-1 record and made the ASC championship match for the second consecutive year. However, the continuation of being the beast of the East won’t be easy. The Eagles have to find replacements for five key starters and will be relying on several freshmen to play major roles. "This year has to be considered a rebuilding season," said De Hart. "When you bring in 13 freshman and you bring back 13 returners and lose eight seniors and five starters, I don’t think it can be anything but termed a rebuilding year." However, the cupboard is far from empty and expectations remain high for the conference’s winningest program the last two years. De Hart’s squad, who were picked second in a conference preseason coaches poll, likes the idea of being the "hunter." "Our goal is still to make the playoffs," said De Hart, who is beginning his fourth season at Ozarks. "I think we will sneak up on some people this year. I love the concept of someone not taking us as serious as they have in the past. The conference is extremely competitive this year and I can see the winning team or the second place team having four or five losses." Offensively, the Eagles return junior sensation Ricky Herrera, who was named the ASC’s East Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, by league coaches. Herrera, a two-time All-Conference player, finished second on the team in goals (19), assists (11) and points (49). Sophomore Daniel Faires, the East’s Offensive Freshman of the Year last season, is expected to continue his scoring ways. Faires ranked third on the squad with 11 goals. Freshmen Ron Hogsett and Malcolm Williams have been impressive in preseason workouts and are expected to contribute immediately at the forward position. Fifth-year senior Aaron Coats returns as the top defender in the conference. Coats was the East Division Defensive Player of the Year last season and will be relied on heavily again. "Our defense is unproven," said De Hart. "We will have at least two new starters in our defense, but I think Aaron playing this season is the difference in us being a contender this year and not. I feel he will anchor us defensively. He has had a great work ethic and shown a lot of leadership qualities and I expect him to be a leader." The midfield attack will include three-year starter Will Masterson. Masterson finished last season as the team’s third leading scorer with 29 points. Lettermen Zack Boatwright, Josh Edgmon and Mike Guernica give the Eagles experience at the midfield position. Freshman C.J. Smith adds talent to the midfield. Nick Richardson and Ryan Pierson provide additional strength at the defender position. Freshman Lars Nyberg has been a bright spot in practice and is expected to contribute as a defender. Sophomore Chris Schultz, last season’s East’s Defensive Freshman of the Year, gives the Eagles a solid goalkeeper. Schultz set a school record holding a .92 goals against average last season. Schultz will receive help from junior Nick Courtney. While the Eagles have been ultra-successful the last two years, De Hart feels his team has unfinished business. "I came here to get the team to the NCAA playoffs and I think that’s a realistic goal," said De Hart. "We are trying to clean up old unfinished business with brand new people. And the key is going to get these new people in tune to what our unfinished business is and make that their goal as well. We are still working at something here and our seniors need to show they are not ready to end their careers with a so so season." The Eagles begin the season on August 31 when they travel to Memphis to take on Millsaps College. The Eagles will then play Rhodes College on September 1 in Memphis.