INDIANAPOLIS -- Oakland’s men’s soccer team, the defending 2014 Horizon League Tournament Champions and Regular Season Co-Champions, tabbed the top spot in the preseason poll. The Golden Grizzlies received five first-place votes to be marked the favorite in this year’s poll by voting of the League’s ten head coaches.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own squad.
Oakland welcomes back seven starters from last season’s team that went 10-7-3 during the regular season and 5-0-3 in conference play. Its top returners include First Team All-League honorees senior Matt Dudley (3 G, 6 A) and senior Shawn Claud Lawson (4 G, 1 A). In addition, Oakland also brings back Second Team All-League goalkeeper sophomore Wes Mink and the Horizon League Tournament MVP senior Gerald Ben (4 G, 3 A).
Valparaiso got the No. 2 slot in the poll while receiving two first-place votes by the head coaches. The Crusaders are coming off of a 2014 campaign where the squad earned a spot in the national top-25 polls for the first time in program history. The team returns Second Team All-League defender junior Omar Lawrence (1 G) and All-Freshman Team honoree Ramone Howell (2 G, 1 A).
Wright State took two more first-place votes in the poll to snag the third spot. The Raiders will be led by junior midfielder Eric Lynch (7 G, 13 A) who tallied multiple postseason accolades last year in earning the Horizon League Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year as well as being named to the First Team All-League. Wright State’s 12 victories last season marked the most the program has had since 2001 while the Raiders led the conference with 38 goals overall and 14 in League play.
Milwaukee grabbed the remaining first-place vote and ranked fourth in the poll. The Panthers have seven starters returning to the team including Second Team All-League midfielder Declan Rodriguez (2 G) and All-Freshman Team honorees Nick Moon (2 G, 2 A) and Reid Stevenson (5 G, 1 A).
Last year’s Co-Regular Season Champion, Detroit, came in at the fifth spot in the poll. The Titans return Freshman of the Year and First Team All-League forward Spiro Pliakos (4 G, 7 A) and Goalkeeper of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-League goalkeeper Nathan Steinwascher. The squad posted the lowest goals against average in school history last season (0.89) and will rely in its depth this year with eight starters returning to the team.
Cleveland State placed sixth in the poll with the Vikings being led by Second Team All-League recipient junior Sergio Manesio (5 G). Cleveland State welcomes back 16 players that had at least one start last season and adds 12 newcomers to the team.
The Flames kick off the 2015 season in the seventh spot in the poll with three returners, Thomas Villamil (1 G, 1 A), Jorge Alvarez (5 G, 1 A) and Jose Fuentes (6 G, 1 A), who each were honored on All-League Teams last season.
Northern Kentucky enters its first year in the Horizon League ranked eighth in the poll as head coach John Basalyga enters his 13th year at the helm. Green Bay follows the Norse at the No. 9 spot under the direction of new head coach Jeremy Bonomo. Belmont rounds out the poll debuting in their second year as an affiliate member of the conference in the sport of men’s soccer.
The men’s soccer season officially kicks off today as all ten Horizon League squads are in action on the pitch.