EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – With preseason camp in the rear view and the regular season beginning this weekend with a pair of games on the west coast, the SIUE men's soccer program is looking to keep the ball rolling in 2013.
Head Coach Kevin Kalish and the Cougars finished the 2012 season with 13 wins, the program's highest win total since 2006, culminating in an appearance in the Missouri Valley Conference Final and consistent recognition in national top 25 polls. SIUE had 10 players earn MVC honors, more than any other team in the league, and the squad's coaches were named MVC Coaching Staff of the Year.
Last season's success did not go unnoticed as the accolades have continued to roll in this preseason both at the conference and national level.
The Cougars were picked as the MVC's team to beat in 2013, topping the league's preseason poll for the first time in school history. Nationally, SIUE is receiving votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Preseason Poll as well as the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Poll.
Goalkeeper John Berner, midfielder Matt Polster, and forward Christian Volesky were all named to the MVC Preseason All-Conference Team, and all three have been recognized on the national scene as well.
Polster and Volesky are both on the watch list for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, the highest individual honor in NCAA men's soccer. SIUE is one of six programs nationally with multiple players on the list.
Berner, the reigning MVC Goalkeeper of the Year, is one of 30 candidates in the running for the Senior CLASS Award in collegiate men's soccer. The award is given to a senior student-athlete who demonstrates character and leadership in the classroom, on the field, and in the community.
"These are well-deserved honors for John, Matt, and Christian," Kalish said. "I believe we have some of the best players in the country, and it's good to see our program get the recognition it deserves. These student-athletes fully understand that all of our focus will be on ensuring the team has a successful season, and they will be a big part of making sure our culture is a healthy one filled with players who are driven to win championships."
A leader both on and off the pitch, Berner will serve as the Cougars' captain this season.
"John possesses tremendous leadership abilities and embraces the core values that we live through on a daily basis," Kalish said. "John has been a part of our culture for four years, and he will provide the winning mentality that we look for within our program."
The Cougars' 2013 roster features 14 players who are in their first year at SIUE. The new crop of talent, which includes five transfers and nine freshmen, will be relied upon to help replace eight departed starters from last season.
Thus far, the new faces have blended well with the team's returners. The Cougars were victorious in each of their preseason exhibitions, defeating Milwaukee 2-0 on Aug. 16 before earning a 1-0 victory over IUPUI last Friday.
"Our goal this preseason was to lay a foundation and paint a clear picture of how we want to play on both sides of the ball," Kalish said. "Our goal is to be a team that controls its own destiny by dictating games in pursuit of winning results. With many new players it will be an ongoing process, but the team has progressed tremendously and we're eager to begin the season."
The team will need to continue to gel as it faces a challenging regular season schedule that features five teams (SMU, Tulsa, Louisville, Northwestern, and South Florida) that were in the NCAA Tournament field in 2012. All five games will be played on the road.
"We're looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming season," Kalish said. "We play a number of games on the road and will test ourselves against some of the other top teams in the country. We have a talented team, and we expect to hit a certain standard every time we step on the field. That is our mentality."
The season begins this weekend with a pair of games in California. The Cougars will face Santa Clara Friday at 9 p.m. CT before taking on San Jose State Sunday at 1:30 p.m. CT.