The Summit League coaches made their picks, and Eastern’s men’s soccer team was predicted to finish last in the conference this season.
The coaches poll for Summit League men’s soccer was released Monday, with Denver atop the poll.
With the first-place pick, this poll marks the seventh consecutive season the Pioneers have been selected to finish first in the conference in the poll.
Denver has won at least a share of the last six regular season titles, with no other team besides Omaha really able to offer even a slight threat.
The Pioneers received four first-place votes, and Omaha received two first-place votes.
Denver’s place in the poll speaks to its reputation and talent, especially considering the team’s star from last season, Andre Shinyashiki, graduated after last season.
Shinyashiki led the nation in scoring with 28 goals last year, helping propel Denver to a ranking of No. 4 in the nation at one point.
In a conference of only six teams, making the playoffs is already a tight race, but Eastern is pegged to be the underdog already.
Eastern received just seven points in the poll, while Western Illinois, who was picked to finish fifth, received nine points.
Despite being picked to finish last, Eastern’s players and head coach, Kiki Lara, believe the team will have a good season.
“Very much looking forward to this year with the large list of returning guys that we have,” said Jonathan Burke, the starting goalie for the Panthers. “Yes there are definitely some areas in our game that need to improve all around but we are very focused and driven this year to win the Summit (League).”
Eastern has made the postseason conference tournament the last three seasons, and last year, the Panthers made it to the tournament ahead of Western Illinois and Oral Roberts, who both landed ahead of the Panthers in the poll.
The returning cast for Eastern includes the core players the team relied on last year, including Christian Sosnowski and Edgar Mesa.
Mesa was pegged as the leader on defense by Lara before last season, with Sosnowski being pegged as the leader for the offense.
Mesa was also named the player to watch for Eastern.
This year, those two, along with Burke, will be the leaders for the squad.
Lara also said so many players returning will help the team this season.
“The biggest thing with this program is the nucleus of guys that are returning are all going to play a role in that leadership aspect,” Lara said. “They’ve been here for two or three years, they know the program, and they believe in the program.”
Defense has always been a staple of the men’s soccer team, and the part of the team which was in question last year was the offense.
Eastern scored 12 goals last season, which was an improvement from the 2017 season’s total of 10, but was not enough for more than three wins last year.
A couple key offensive players, who were injured last year, are completely healthy going into this season.
Lara excitedly said Sosnowski and Alex Castaneda, who both have injury histories and missed part of last season, are fully healthy and ready to go.
Sosnowski lead the team with three goals last year, and Castaneda lead the team with two assists, despite a small sample of playing time.
Eastern has a break before its season starts, with the opening match at Evansville Aug. 30 at 6 p.m.
Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]