The Horizon League men’s soccer coaches don’t think Wright State will take much of a dip this season despite losing conference player of the year Peguy Ngatcha, fellow MLS draftee Jake Stovall and two other all-league performers.
When the preseason poll came out in August, Oakland was named the favorite, while UIC was picked second and Wright State third. But the voting was so close, it was a virtual dead heat for the top spot.
The Raiders would appear to be in full-bore rebuilding mode after winning the regular-season title last year and reaching the conference tourney finals for the third consecutive time.
But coach Bryan Davis is glad his league peers think so highly of his team. They may be inexperienced, but he wants his players to believe they can contend for another title, too.
“At great programs — especially the ones that are, quote-unquote, at mid-major institutions — you can’t have the highs and lows of rebuilding. You’ve got to reload,” Davis said.
“That means sometimes asking kids before they’re ready to play at a higher standard. You’re not going to always get where you want to. But I’m going to shoot as high as we can and expect more than last year — because even if we get close to it, we’re going to be in great shape as this young group grows.”
The Raiders were dealt another roster blow when Jackson Dietrich, the team’s assist leader in 2016 and a second-team all-league pick, suffered a season-ending injury.
But Davis still sees plenty of talent. They’ve had competitive losses against No. 14 West Virginia and Ohio State on the road and will take a 1-2-1 record into their league opener at 7 p.m. Saturday against visiting Oakland.
Senior midfielder A.J. Paterson was a second-team all-league selection last season and is the reigning conference player of the week. The Raiders also got a boost with the return of senior midfielder Sam DeRoy, who was the team MVP in 2015 but sat out last year with an injury.
Sophomore goalkeeper Joel Sundell is back along with three other returning starters: juniors Dan Bent and Eric Hutton and soph Austin Kinley, a Xenia product.
Davis said he isn’t allowed to discuss injuries because privacy laws, but he acknowledged the loss of Dietrich “is going to hurt us.” But he quickly added: “We’ve got a young group that, without one of our all-league performers, is still playing at a high level. That says a lot about the kids we’ve brought in.”
Paterson has four of the team’s five goals, including three for his first career hat trick in a win over Cincinnati.
“He’s a special talent,” Davis said. “We think he’s the next draft pick for this university. He’s got the ability to play at the next level.
“For us, scoring goals isn’t our expectation for him, but when he does, we’re really dangerous.”
Davis, who is in his ninth year, has led the Raiders to records of 11-6-3, 12-8-1 and 12-7-2 the last three seasons. He was the 2016 conference coach of the year.
But those three straight runner-up finishes in the league tourney gnaw at him — especially since the winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney and the Raiders have never played in it.
They lost to UIC, 1-0, last year.
“It makes me feel like we’re doing something right, but it also makes me frustrated that we haven’t been able to step through. The job’s not done, and we’ve got some work to do,” he said.
“If we get there, we can make some noise.”
The Raiders are 3-3 after a 2-0 loss at No. 6 West Virginia on Monday. They host Valparaiso at 7 p.m. Friday.
Ticket information will be announced at a later date.