MACOMB, Ill. - Coming off its fifth Summit League title in the past eight years, the Western Illinois men's soccer team is no stranger to success under 16th-year head coach Dr. Eric Johnson.
After being picked to finish third in the Summit League preseason poll last season, the team finished the regular season with a conference-best 4-2 record in league action.
The Fighting Leathernecks return six starters from the 2011 squad that finished 13-7-1 overall and defeated Oral Roberts 2-1 to win the Summit League Championship.
"It's really rewarding to look in the faces of your players when you've won the championship," Johnson said. "It means a lot to the program to have continued success, but it puts pressure on the next year because you want to repeat and do it again."
Headlining the roster is the reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, junior defender Charlie Bales. Bales started 19 games in his sophomore campaign and totaled six points on two goals and two assists while anchoring the strong Leatherneck defense.
Western Illinois also returns its top offensive threat from a year ago in senior forward Nathan Bruinsma, who led the team with 12 points on five goals and a pair of assists.
At midfield, the Leathernecks return seniors Husref Jupic and Aaron Appel. Jupic has made 37 starts and totaled 21 points throughout his career, earning Second Team All-League honors last year. Appel started 20 games in 2011 and played a big defensive role, in addition to adding a goal and assist.
The Leathernecks will welcome several new faces who look to have an immediate impact, as well.
A pair of freshmen, Tyler Chavez and Erick Bloom, were able to put the ball in the back of the net in the exhibition contests. Chavez, who was a First Team All-Stater and member of the Iowa Olympic Development Program State Team, scored in each of the first two games. Bloom, a two-time All-State honoree, started both games and added a goal, as well.
After Andy Ryan was a constant presence in goal the last two seasons, none of this year's goalies has more than one game of experience in net for the Leathernecks.
Several newcomers have joined this battle for starting goalkeeper. Sophomore transfer Zach Downes posted a shutout in the opening exhibition game, and fellow sophomore transfer Yves Dietrich played well in the first half against Quincy. These two will be joined by sophomore Andre Nichols, who shut out Quincy in the second half on Aug. 18, and freshman Patrick Bunting in an open competition to become the starting keeper.
REGULAR SEASON OPENER
Who: Western Illinois vs. Graceland
When: Friday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m.
Where: John MacKenzie Alumni Field, Macomb, Ill.
COVERAGE & LINKS
The Leathernecks will open their season on Friday when they play host to Graceland in the first of nine games at John MacKenzie Alumni Field in 2012, not including the Summit League Tournament, which will also take place in Macomb on Nov. 9 and 11.
After another home game against Central Arkansas on Aug. 26, Western Illinois hits the road for a tough five-game stretch that includes contests against Big East opponents DePaul and Marquette, Big Ten foe Wisconsin, and Horizon members Valparaiso and Illinois-Chicago.
Western Illinois will then return home on Sept. 22 to welcome Omaha to the Summit League in the conference opener, before also taking on Northern Kentucky on Sept. 25.
The Leathernecks will once again hit the road for four games out of a five-game stretch, traveling to Oakland, Eastern Illinois and IUPUI for conference matches and Drake for a non-conference game, with a home matchup against Fort Wayne in the middle on Oct. 6.
To conclude the regular season the Leathernecks will head home for four straight home games, taking on Bradley, Oral Roberts, Kansas City and Belmont from Oct. 23 to Nov. 4.
Western Illinois was voted to finish first in the 2012 Summit League Men's Soccer Preseason Coaches' Poll, receiving five of the eight first-place votes.
Leading the way with 46 points in the poll, Western Illinois finished ahead of Kansas City (39 points, one first-place vote), Oakland (38 points, two first-place votes) and Oral Roberts (28 points).
Teams predicted to finish in the bottom half of the league included IUPUI (23 points), Fort Wayne (20 points), Eastern Illinois (18 points) and Omaha (eight points).