For the 14 returning Columbia College men’s soccer players, frustration will be motivation this season.
Last year, after earning a No. 16 ranking and a spot at the national tournament, the team lost in the first round to end its season at 16-4-1.
This year , the Cougars are No. 6 in the NAIA preseason poll. Coach John Klein said the ranking doesn’t add much pressure.
“I’m looking at two, three, four games into the season. You lose a couple games and you drop,” Klein said. “I’m hoping that doesn’t affect our mentality.”
In Columbia College’s first game on the road Friday against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, the No. 18 team in NCAA Division II. The Cougars got off to a quick start but lost 2-1.
Ben Boehner gave Columbia College a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute, scoring on an assist by Juan Pablo Irrera. SIUE came back, though, with goals in the 22nd and 36th minute.
The Cougars play against Southern Indiana today in Evansville, Ind.
The Cougars should benefit from several strong returners, including seniors Irrera and Steve Williams and junior Vladimir Roganovic.
Junior midfielder Judson Ball and freshman Justin Robinson lead the six newcomers. They are expected to start and take some scoring pressure off Irrera, who was a Second Team All-American last season.
In 2003, Irrera led the Cougars in almost all offensive categories. He scored 17 goals last season, six of which were winners. He also tied for the team lead with nine assists.
Klein and Roganovic said the newcomers impressed them.
“We lost seven guys from last season,” Roganovic said. “The good thing is that we replaced them at the same level.”
The defense for the Cougars is loaded with return players. Williams, the Cougar’s starting goalkeeper, ended the season with a 1.35 goal against average in 1,671 minutes of play. Ragonavic will lead the defense this season. His performance last season earned him Third Team All-American honors.
“I feel confident in our ability to shut other teams down,” Klein said.