RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Two weeks from the start of a new Great American Conference men’s soccer season, the league’s head coaches established Fort Hays State as the narrow preseason favorite, the conference office announced on Thursday.
The Tigers, along with Northeastern State, Newman and Rogers State joined the GAC this season as affiliate members. The new eight-team league will continue to feature a full double round-robin schedule and will conclude with the top four teams qualifying for the conference’s postseason tournament. The regular-season champion will host the GAC Championships.
The Tigers tallied 40 points and received five first-place votes. Northeastern State placed second with 39 points. The RiverHawks claimed the remaining three first-place votes. Rogers State placed third, followed by Newman, Ouachita, Harding, Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma Baptist.
Fort Hays enters the season ranked third in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25. Northeastern State checked in at No. 22.
Last season, the Tigers advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division II National Semifinals for the first time in program history. Santiago Agudelo, the reigning D2CCA National Player of the Year, headlines the top returning Tigers. He scored 26 goals and added six assists. Defender Sergio Villalba and midfielder Moritz Walther also earned All-Region honors in 2018.
The RiverHawks bring back James Doyle, a two-time First Team All-Region selection. From his defender position, he netted nine goals and added two assists. Flynn Semmerling and Ben Watson also return after they both landed on the D2CCA All-Region team. Semmerling scored eight goals, including two game winners. Watson led RiverHawks with 11 assists.
Rogers State joins the GAC after posting an 8-8-2 record in the Heartland Conference. The Hillcats bring back a pair of All-Region honorees in Noah Robson and Chris Sowder. Sowder led the team with nine goals and 21 points. Robson tallied a team-leading nine assists and notched three goals.
Newman edged out Ouachita and Harding for fourth position. The Jets feature All-Region forward Ignacio Lerech and their leading scorer from last season, Ed Jabbari. Both scored seven goals with Jabbari tallying four assists to Lerech’s three.
Ouachita won their third GAC title last year. In the final, the Tigers defeated regular-season champion Harding for the second-straight year. They bring back First-Team All-GAC defender Hector Duron and All-Region defender Jakob Cuellar.
The Bison return three 2018 First-Team All-GAC selections, headlined by GAC Player of the Year and All-Region midfielder Christian Ramos. He tied for the GAC lead in goals and ranked second in points. Jack Savage, a First-Team All-Region forward, led the conference in assists and points.
Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma Baptist rounded out the poll. The Crimson Storm brings back 2018 GAC Freshman of the Year Angel Lopez and GAC Defensive Player of the Year Bojan Tolmac. Lopez totaled 12 points – three goals and six assists. Following a redshirt season, David Estrada, a three-time All-GAC First Team pick and two-time All-Region performer, returns to the Bison back line.
The 2019 season beginning on Thursday, September 5 with three schools – Fort Hays State, Oklahoma Baptist and Southern Nazarene – opening play. One day later, Northeastern State, Ouachita and Rogers State take to the pitch. Harding and Newman debut on Sunday, September 8. The GAC Championships will take place on November 15 and 17.
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