The top three soccer teams in the Big East Conference were separated by two wins last year.
Champion Oostburg was 10-0-1, ahead of Kohler (9-1-1) and Sheboygan Christian/Lutheran (8-1-2).
Eagles coach Dan Oppeneer believes the Flying Dutchmen and Blue Bombers will reload, but each lost a number of key seniors, meaning …
“We lost some nice players, two real quality starters and a couple of other guys that played a lot of minutes for us, but we return a high percentage of what we had,” he said. “So we think we have the ability to pass those guys and win conference. I guess we’ll find out.”
The season began Thursday against Ozaukee and Christian/Lutheran was already facing an uphill battle because of injuries.
Junior Michael Modahl, the only Eagle to earn first-team all-conference last season, is out for the year with a torn ACL from a non-soccer injury this summer. He had surgery last week and will miss every game.
“It’s a big blow,” Oppeneer said. “And we’ve also lost a couple other players; one definitely would have been a starter and the other one was probably our first candidate to replace Michael. So we had a little bit of adversity.”
Junior Josiah Stecker was another starter, but he broke his collarbone playing with teammates before the season began in August. His coach anticipates he will return, but coaches will be cautious about it.
At least there are two second-team all-conference players on the field in seniors Aidan Diener (defender) and Sam Hendrikse (forward).
Hendrikse, who will primarily play forward, led the squad with 13 goals and seven assists a year ago as mostly a midfielder.
“I expect him to score a lot,” Oppeneer said. “Score a lot through the air on headers. He has good size as a forward. It’ll be Sam and a couple of sophomores this year up front, so he’s got to lead that group and he’ll really be the leader of our offense.”
Diener was the defensive leader “by long shot,” according to Oppeneer, and he will assume that role now as a center back.
“That allows us to do a lot of other things aggressively knowing he’s back there just kind of as a safety valve,” his coach said. “We would like to get him more involved with the rest of our attack as well and we’ll try to do that some this year.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Tony Schmitz, called “outstanding” by his coach, is another key returner.
“The best I’ve ever seen from a goalie as a freshman,” Oppeneer said.
“Another guy that was deserving of all-conference honors last year. I think the fact he was a freshman was probably why he didn’t.”