MSU Soccer: Men tops in Heartland poll

WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - Midwestern State men's soccer begins its inaugural season in the Heartland Conference as the league's preseason favorite after receiving 19 of 24 first-place votes as voted on by the conference's 12 head coaches and sports information directors the league announced Wednesday morning.

The Mustangs, ranked No. 7 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Division II Preseason Poll, earned 282 points to edge out St. Edward's who received 266 points and four first-place votes. The Hilltoppers also appeared in the NSCAA preseason rankings at No. 14 after claiming the Heartland title and advancing to the NCAA Second Round in 2015.

West Texas A&M came in third in the conference poll with 216 points and one first-place vote, coming in front of Newman (199) and Rogers State (177) to round out the top five.

Texas A&M International (171), St. Mary's (145), Eastern New Mexico (124), Lubbock Christian (108), Oklahoma Christian (74), Dallas Baptist (70) and UT Permian Basin (40) made up the 12-team poll.

After three seasons competing as an independent, Midwestern State joins fellow Lone Star Conference schools West Texas A&M, Eastern New Mexico and UT Permian Basin as Heartland affiliate members in 2016.

With the addition of four affiliate men's soccer programs, the Heartland Conference has moved to a divisional format with three four-team divisions. The winner of each division will earn an automatic bid to the revamped Heartland Conference Men's Soccer Tournament which will feature six teams for the first time. The final three teams to make the tournament will be the three next highest teams in conference points.

Midwestern State enters the 2016 season following a trip to the NCAA South Central Region final and a 17-1-1 overall record a season ago. The Mustangs finished with their best winning percentage in program history (.921) while posting just the third undefeated regular season (2002, 2010) in the program's 44 seasons with a 16-0-1 mark.

Senior midfielder Flavio Guzman headlines a group of 12 returners for the Mustangs after totaling 10 goals and four assists to earn NSCAA Second Team All-American honors in 2015. Senior defender Antonio Hernandez also returns for Midwestern after capturing D2CCA All-South Central Region Second Team accolades in his first season suiting up for the Mustangs.

Midwestern State returns offensive threats in senior midfielders Christian Okeke and Leon Taylor, who ranked third and fourth, respectively, for the Mustangs in scoring in 2015. Sophomore defender Alex Mullet also returns off last season's starting lineup after appearing in all 19 contests while senior goalkeepers Noah Fazekas and Brice Gardner are back following eight starts apiece in goal last season.

The Mustangs travel to Colorado for their 2016 season opener Friday, Sept. 2 to face off against regional foe Fort Lewis with a 4 p.m. (CT) kickoff at Dirks Field in Durango. Midwestern begins its home slate Monday, Sept. 12 with a 7 p.m. match against former conference rival Northeastern State (Okla.) at MSU Soccer Field.

Heartland Conference Preseason Poll

1. Midwestern St. (19)   282 pts
2. St. Edward's (4)  266
3. West Texas A&M (1)   216
4. Newman   199
5. Rogers St.   177
6. Texas A&M-International   171
7. St. Mary's   145
8. Eastern New Mexico   124
9. Lubbock Christian   108
10. Oklahoma Christian   74
11. Dallas Baptist   70
12. UT-Permian Basin  40

Women picked 5th in Lone Star Conference poll

Midwestern State was selected fifth in the Lone Star Conference Women's Soccer Preseason Poll as voted on by the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media representatives, the conference office announced Wednesday afternoon.

Last season's tournament champion Texas A&M-Commerce was picked as the preseason favorite, receiving 115 points and 10 first-place votes. Angelo State was selected a close second in the poll with 112 points and seven first-place votes after claiming the LSC regular season crown in 2015.

Texas Woman's (77), West Texas A&M (74), Midwestern State (64), Eastern New Mexico (36) and UT Permian Basin (26) rounded out the poll with UTPB receiving the final first-place vote.

The Mustangs recorded an 8-7-3 mark and fifth-place finish in the LSC under second-year head Damian Clarke in 2015. The Maroon and Gold return nine starters from last year's squad including five all-LSC selections.

Senior midfielder Aly Wade and sophomore defender Imani Morlock return looking to guide the Mustangs to their first NCAA postseason since 2013 after both earned NSCAA All-South Central Region Third Team accolades last season. Morlock was tabbed the LSC Freshman of the Year and selected to the conference's first team in her first season donning the MSU jersey while Wade garnered All-LSC Second Team honors.

Senior midfielder Liz Navarette joined Wade on the All-LSC Second Team a season ago junior forward Destinee Williamson and junior goalkeeper Courtney Burnette also return after being named All-LSC Honorable Mention picks.

Williamson paced the MSU offense in 2015 with six goals for 12 points while Wade was close behind with three goals and a team-best five assists for 11 points on the season.

The MSU back line looks to put up another strong front this season with senior defenders Haley Britton and Katie Huff returning. The duo has started in each of MSU's 58 contests over the last three seasons, helping the Mustangs post a 1.01 goals against average in 2015.

Midwestern State opens the 2016 season Thursday, Sept. 1 with a 6 p.m. (CT) kickoff against Regis (Colo.) at the Regis Match Pitch in Denver. The Mustangs make their home debut Sunday, Sept. 11 at 12 p.m. when they play host to Fort Lewis (Colo.) at MSU Soccer Field.

Lone Star Conference Preseason Poll

1. Texas A&M-Commerce (10)   115 pts
2. Angelo St. (7)   112
3. Texas Woman's   77
4. West Texas A&M   74
5. Midwestern St.   64
6. Eastern New Mexico   36
7. UT-Permian Basin   26

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