Eastern returns ready for 2017 season

Eastern%E2%80%99s+Andre+Nappa+tiptoes+near+the+out+of+bounds+line+and+strikes+the+ball+as+a+St.+Xavier+defender+closes+in+at+Lakeside+Field.+Eastern+beat+St.+Xavier+2-0+in+what+was+their+final+exhibition+match+of+the+season.
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Eastern returns ready for 2017 season

Eastern’s Andre Nappa tiptoes near the out of bounds line and strikes the ball as a St. Xavier defender closes in at Lakeside Field. Eastern beat St. Xavier 2-0 in what was their final exhibition match of the season.

Eastern’s Andre Nappa tiptoes near the out of bounds line and strikes the ball as a St. Xavier defender closes in at Lakeside Field. Eastern beat St. Xavier 2-0 in what was their final exhibition match of the season.

Sean Hastings

Eastern’s Andre Nappa tiptoes near the out of bounds line and strikes the ball as a St. Xavier defender closes in at Lakeside Field. Eastern beat St. Xavier 2-0 in what was their final exhibition match of the season.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Eastern’s Andre Nappa tiptoes near the out of bounds line and strikes the ball as a St. Xavier defender closes in at Lakeside Field. Eastern beat St. Xavier 2-0 in what was their final exhibition match of the season.

JJ Bullock, Assistant Sports Editor

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Despite the Eastern men’s soccer team being selected to finish last in the Summit League’s head coaches preseason poll, confidence around the program is high right now as the team looks to take a leap forward in its ongoing developmental process under head coach Kiki Lara.

The 2-4 conference record the team put up last season was good enough to get them to the conference tournament, but with a mix of returning players coming back a year older and more experienced, joined with the nine new faces on the squad, the team is better in Lara’s eyes, and has its sights set on things larger than just a tournament berth.

“The goal for the team is to win and get back to the Summit Conference Tournament, and win the Summit Conference Championship,” Lara said. “There is development and that’s what we want to see in all the players that are returning and but also even getting the players coming in, just making sure that  is one of the corner stones of our program, is development. Absolutely, we are in a better place, but that is kind of a natural way of things around here.”

All nine of the new players on the roster have all come in and earned playing time and a role on the team according to Lara, but where the team has made its biggest improvements is with its returning players coming back with more maturity.

“I think the biggest jump developmentally is that the continuity of our group that has been bought in to the culture of our program on and off the field,” Lara said. “We are able to get to the next stages of development both attacking and defensively, because a lot of these guys are returning and have played substantial minutes for us. So, they are just a little more experienced.”

Eastern has its eyes on the upper-echelon of the conference as well. The Panthers will play the No. 3 team in the country in conference foe Denver on the road on Oct. 7. and will play the Summit League’s second ranked team, Omaha on Sep 23.

“We want to focus on the top end. The top end being Denver and Omaha, so that is who we are focused on is being able to compete with the top end, “Lara said. “One-hundred percent we will be able to compete with anyone in the conference. But that is not to say that those are the only teams that are competitive. There are six teams in the conference and last year there was a four-way tie for fourth place, so it’s a bloodbath, in conference.”

Last season, Denver narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Eastern, beating them 1-0 at Lakeside Field in October.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]