Columbia College starts its sports year with a nationally ranked women’s volleyball team and a men’s soccer team looking to defend a conference championship.
The Cougars are ranked fifth, the third consecutive year they have been ranked among the top five entering the season. Last year it finished fourth in the NAIA at 32-7.
Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington has Sandra Gomez-Botero, Jaime Diestelkamp, Katie Skibiski and Tracie Ford back as starters.
Two key losses on the team have turned into great additions on the practice squad, Wrye-Washington said. Last year’s All-Americans, Endrina Sosa and Yesmina Moreno, are coaching assistants while they finish up degrees, she said.
The Cougars ended 2002 at the national quarterfinals and lost to Houston Baptist University, the national runner-up.
The Cougars start their season at the Northwestern College Tournament this weekend in Orange, Iowa. They play No. 1 National American University, which defeated the Cougars twice last year.
The soccer team will have to deal with the loss of Kjell-Einar Teien, a third-team All-American, and Matt Taylor, an All-Conference player.
With six newcomers, coach John Klein said he is confident entering the season.
Juan Pablo Irrera, Vladimir Roganovic, Ben Boehner and Jared Cross return after making the All-Conference team. Boehner and Cross also received All-American honorable mention in 2002.
Klein said he expects improved goalie play. Junior Steve Williams joins the team and will compete with Nano Recondo.
The Cougars allowed 1.1 goals per game last season.
The team has won the American Midwest Conference two of the past three years. Last year, the team finished 13-8, losing to Graceland University 4-2 in a double-overtime regional game.
The Cougars start the season Saturday against Aquinas College in St. Charles.