RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — After winning conference championships each of the last two seasons, the Fort Hays State men's soccer team has been picked to make it three straight as they sit atop the 2019 GAC Men's Soccer Preseason Poll, released Thursday by the league office. The poll is comprised of ballots from head coaches of all eight programs, with coaches ranking the other seven teams in the league.
Fort Hays State, ranked No. 3 nationally in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Top 25, picked up five of seven possible first-place votes, earning 40 points in the balloting process. Northeastern State came in just behind the Tigers, picking up 39 points and three first-place votes. Rogers State enters the year ranked third in the league with Newman slotted fourth. Defending GAC champion Ouachita Baptist is listed fifth in the preseason poll, just in front of 2018 regular season GAC champion Harding. Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma Baptist round out the poll in seventh and eighth, respectively.
The Tigers are coming off the program's first trip to the national semifinals in 2018. It was the seventh-straight year FHSU reached the NCAA Division II Championship tournament, the second-longest active streak in the nation. Fort Hays State returns five All-Conference performers and three All-Region athletes from last year's team that finished the year 17-2-2. Included in that list is Santiago Agudelo, the reigning D2CCA National Player of the Year. Agudelo etched his name up and down the record books in his junior campaign, scoring 26 goals alongside six assists. Other returning All-Region honorees include defender Sergio Villalba and midfielder Moritz Walther.
The new season will be the first year under new head coach Gerry Cleary, announced as the second head coach in program history in early 2019. Cleary has earned three national titles as a head coach, winning two NAIA championships with the Martin Methodist women's program before leading the Martin Methodist men's squad to the 2013 national title.
After turning in the first perfect MIAA record in history (8-0-0), the Tigers will compete in the Great American Conference beginning in 2019. The MIAA and GAC announced a sport sponsorship partnership last year in which the MIAA will oversee men's tennis competition while the GAC administers men's soccer. The Tigers will play a 14-game double round-robin conference schedule against the other seven programs.
The Tigers open the year at home against perennial power Rockhurst on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m., the first of eight regular season home matches.