The Missouri State men’s soccer team is coming into this season on a high from an excellent 2019 season. The team went 18-1-1 and made the second round of the NCAA tournament where they lost an overtime nail biter to No. 8 ranked UCF.
The accolades and recognition have carried over into this season. On Jan. 28, senior forward Josh Dolling and senior defender Kyle Hiebert were named to the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy watch list. The Hermann Trophy is the most coveted and prestigious individual honor in NCAA Division 1 soccer, comparable to the Naismith and Heisman trophies.
Less than a week later, the team was selected as the unanimous favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears were also ranked as high as No. 10 in several preseason polls. Along with Dolling and Hiebert, senior goalkeeper Michael Creek and junior midfielder Jack Denton were named to the preseason All-MVC team.
The team has had to face some unusual challenges leading up to this season. The men’s soccer season is usually in the fall, but due to COVID-19 precautions and complications, the season was postponed to the spring. This has also caused the team to have to deal with weather issues associated with practicing in February.
“It’s just been a different time,” head coach Jon Leamy said. “We were gearing up in the fall, but we really didn’t get to play games. There were a lot of training opportunities.”
Another challenge the team has had to adjust to is a changing schedule. Originally, conference play was supposed to begin shortly after Valentine’s Day. But on Feb. 9, the MVC decided to redraw the schedule and push back the start date to the end of February.
“We were able to get a couple of exhibitions in the past couple of weeks, and that was good because we got to see some players play and get minutes,” Leamy said. “To be honest, it was exciting. I think the guys just wanted to play.”
Leamy says the team has used the extra training time to grow together as a close team, even though there are less in-person activities.
Hiebert, who is the team captain, said he is excited for the team to play some real games again.
“We lost some big time performers from fall 2019,” Hiebert said. “But that gives an opportunity for other guys who have been here for years working their butts off to show and add extra quality in different areas. We have some incredible recruits who have come in as well.”
One thing that Leamy and Hiebert said they love about this year’s team is the depth. They are both ecstatic about how coaches have put together a really good overall team.
“Players are ready to step in and provide, Whether it’s heavy minutes or lighter minutes, we need to really get a result in a game,” Leamy said.
Dolling is an attacker for the team and often leads the charge offensively; he scored 7 goals last season, which was second on the team. Hiebert anchors the team from the center back position and provides excellent leadership on and off the field.
Fellow seniors Greg Stratton and Connor Langan have been steady presences in the team’s defensive backfield. Denton is someone Leamy expects to be able to count on in the midfield. Creek has been a mainstay at goalkeeper and provides some excellent leadership for the team.
“There are a lot of players doing a great job for us right now that are going to get heavy minutes,” Leamy said. “We think we have got some great depth. We have some freshmen that are coming along really well, and we think by the end of the season, you are going to see some freshmen making an impact.”
In Hiebert’s eyes, one of the biggest strengths of this team is their adaptability and flexibility. They focus on things they can control and try to not worry about things they have no control over. The players focus on what they can do in a specific practice or weight room session or team meeting instead of getting lost in external factors like the weather.
The Bears are scheduled to open the season on Feb. 25 at UMKC, but that could change when the MVC releases the new schedule.
Follow Brayden Ash on Twitter, @Brady_A_Ash
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.