SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University men's soccer team is picked to finish seventh in the Northwest Conference this fall, according to votes cast by the NWC's head coaches in the 2011 NWC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll. Four teams received first place votes in the poll, with Pacific Lutheran University taking the top spot.
Pacific Lutheran, which achieved a 10-8-1 overall record and was 9-5-0 in the NWC last year, garnered two first place votes and 43 total points in the preseason poll. Pacific University (14-3-3, 10-2-2 NWC), the defending NWC champion, was ranked second with three first place votes and 40 points.
Whitman College (11-6-3, 9-3-2 NWC) held third place in the poll with one first place vote and 39 points. Whitworth University (10-6-2, 7-5-2 NWC) was listed fourth with the final two first place votes and a total of 36 points.
University of Puget Sound (10-5-5, 7-4-3 NWC) followed in fifth place with 33 points and Linfield College (8-9-1, 7-7-0 NWC) was sixth with 21 points.
Willamette (3-13-3, 1-11-2) was seventh in the poll with 13 points. George Fox University (0-15-2, 0-13-1 NWC), which enters the season with a 17-match winless streak in NWC action, was listed eighth with 10 points.
Head Coach Lloyd Fobi, who was hired by Willamette this spring, is set to begin his first season with the Bearcats. He has a team with significant experience, as the Bearcats return 19 players, including eight starters. In addition, two players return after missing the 2010 season due to injuries. The squad also features seven newcomers.
Top returning players from last year's squad include Honorable Mention All-NWC selections Brendan Dineen (Sr., D, Portland, OR/Grant HS) and Mike McGrew (Jr., MF, Portland, OR/Grant HS). Last year, Dineen started all 19 games and led the Bearcats in overall scoring with three goals and one assist (7 points).
McGrew played in 18 games with 16 starts. He led Willamette's midfield and was the team's top passer. He finished the season with a team-high six assists to tied for sixth in the conference.
Returning to action on offense is Erik Kaufman (Jr., F, Portland, OR/Grant HS), who led the Bearcats in scoring in 2009 with nine goals and two assists (20 points). Kaufman missed all of last season after suffering a knee injury during the spring of 2010. In his first two years at Willamette, Kaufman tallied 15 goals and two assists.
WU must replace goalkeeper Eben Hellekson '11, who graduated after ranking second in the NWC last season with 87 saves. He earned a 1.41 goals against average.Returning at goalkeeper is Alfredo Zuniga (Sr., Salem, OR/South Salem HS), who claimed a 0.50 GAA and a 1-0-1 record in 179 minutes played last year.
Willamette will open the regular season on Friday, Sept. 2 at Trinity Lutheran College in Everett, Wash., before taking on Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 3.
The Bearcats' first home match is a preseason exhibition against Clark College (Wash.) at Sparks Field on Thursday, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. (PDT). Willamette will play its regular season opener on Friday, Sept. 2 at Trinity Lutheran College in Everett, Wash., before taking on Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 3.
NWC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Pacific Lutheran (2), 43 points, 10-8-1, 9-5-0 NWC in 2010
2. Pacific (3), 40 points, 14-3-3, 10-2-2 NWC
3. Whitman (1), 39 points, 11-6-3, 9-3-2 NWC
4. Whitworth (2), 36 points, 10-6-2, 7-5-2 NWC
5. Puget Sound, 33 points, 10-5-5 overall, 7-4-3 NWC
6. Linfield, 21 points, 8-9-1, 7-7-0 NWC
7. Willamette, 13 points, 3-13-3, 1-11-2 NWC
8. George Fox, 10 points, 0-15-2, 0-13-1 NWC
Note: Points were awarded on an 8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Each coach was not allowed to vote for his own team.