With graduated stalwart Silas Hibbs patrolling the midfield, the Tabor College men?s soccer team placed sixth in 2008 in the Kansas Col?legiate Athletic Conference with a 4-4-1 record.
This year, Hibbs will patrol the sidelines as an assistant to coach Grant Brubacher, who expects the Bluejays to again compete favorably against the middle tier of teams in the conference.
The Bluejays were picked sixth in a preseason poll of the conference coaches.
?Where we were picked is pretty much on par with where we finished last year, but I think we have the talent to do better than that,? Brubacher said.
?But we understand the rational for being picked there. We lost three starters and one other impact player from last year?s team. But we also return nine players who started a game a season ago.?
As the team?s highest scoring returner, point-per-game producer Andy Adrian will no doubt command attention from opposing defenses in his senior year at forward.
So will sophomore midfielder Liam Mclean. Strong play evidenced by two goals and seven assists in 19 games helped Mclean earn all-KCAC first-team recognition as a freshman.
Adrian (10 goals and two assists in 20 games) received honorable mention last year, as did sophomore midfielder Robert Masson (three goals, four assists in 20 games).
Beyond their all-conference selections, Tabor will rely on six other players with significant varsity experience: senior goalkeeper Aaron Schmucker, senior midfielder Dallas Pruitt, junior defender Josh Reiswig, junior defender and midfielder Marcos Bandiera, junior defender JD Tippin and junior defender Jake Riley.
Schmucker stopped 74 percent of the shots he encountered and, including non-conference games, posted an 8-7-1 record with three shutouts.
Pruitt and Bandiera each scored four goals.
Reiswig, Tippin and Riley will be significant contributors to the Bluejays? back line. Adrian, Schmucker and Pruitt are all four-year starters.
?We have an excellent group returning, and that bodes well for us,? Brubacher said. ?We will hopefully have some good leadership with those players.?
Add to the mix a group of seven newcomers?four freshmen, three transfers?and the Bluejays appear well-stocked to compete against all the teams in the conference not named Kansas Wesleyan or McPherson.
Brubacher said the point totals in the preseason polls mirror the established pecking order within the conference in recent years, and noted that McPherson and Kansas Wesleyan have proven themselves a step ahead of the rest of the KCAC men?s programs.
At least, for now.
The Tabor women?s team returns half of the starters from a team that went 5-4 in conference play and placed fourth in the 10-team KCAC.
But with three proven all-conference calibre players among six returning starters, the Bluejays will look to rise above their seventh-place pick in the preseason poll.
?We have Jessica Burden Leigh Costello and Aubrey White?horn, who have all received all-conference recognition,? Brubacher said. ?It?s great to have a core group back like that.?
Burden scored 13 goals and accounted for 65 percent of the Bluejays? offense. Whitehorn stopped 83 percent of the shots she faced and limited opponents to little more than two goals per game on average. Costello?s presence in the midfield contributed both to opportunistic offense and energetic defense.
But with six of the nine remaining starting roles vacant, the Bluejays will rely heavily on newcomers.
?We do have a number of mostly freshman coming in to fill those spots,? Brubacher said. ?We?ll be younger and less experienced in terms of playing at the college level, but we do have talented players coming in.?
The group of incoming freshmen includes Sandra Ortega (Farmersville, Calif.), Grace Humphries (Wichita), Jordan Zielke (Wichita), Kalee VanRavenswaay (Lenexa), Molly Dick (Buhler) and Erica Tavaras (Queens, N.Y.).
The Bluejays had to catch lightning in a bottle to finish in the top half of the final standings?and that remains the case
Tabor?s season begins today at Oklahoma Wesleyan and continues Friday at Saint Gregory?s University. The Bluejays first home game will be 3 p.m. Sept. 18 against Oklahoma Baptist.