EUREKA — Summer came to an end for the Eureka men's soccer team on Friday.
And, with a pair of preseason training sessions on the Traister Field practice fields, fall officially began.
Dwain Barker, entering his sixth season with the Red Devils, welcomed a promising crop of 21 players to the pitch for the first day of preseason practice.
The first day, he said, is all about evaluation. This year, the coach implemented new fitness testing that he hadn't incorporated in the past.
The day before the preseason began he said he thought this group would be ready for it.
"I actually feel pretty good, especially with our returners," Barker said. "They have put a lot more work in the spring than in the past, so these guys are a little more determined. So I'm pretty excited about that.
"I'm looking forward to starting our training sessions and see how they integrate with our new players."
The Red Devils return 11 players from last year's squad, eight of whom have extensive starting experience.
That experience starts with outside midfielder/forward Michael Hansen (Peoria, Ill./Limestone), who will enter his senior season ranked seventh in program history in goals (13) and points (35). Barker said he's developed into a quality leader in his team-high 50 matches as a Red Devil.
"My role this year, especially since it's my last year, is kind of to guide this team into a direction that coach has been working on for years now," Hansen said.
Christian Marin (Whittier, Calif./California), a dynamic midfielder and four-year contributor, has started every match of the past two seasons and is another key senior, along with Adam Newell (Morton, Ill./Morton). Once a defender, Newell started to come into his own as an attacking player who could hold the ball and help create chances.
Sophomore Diego Cintora (Watseka, Ill./Watseka) is looking to build off a promising freshman campaign that featured four goals and three assists — good for third on the team with 11 points.
Another sophomore, Ignacio Gutierrez (Madrid, Spain/El Prado), displayed an ability to win challenges in the back and play sound defense. Joining him in the back line is three-year starter Trey Behm and two-year starter Tyler Goss (Groveland, Ill./Pekin).
Goss, a junior, has steadily improved the past two seasons and become a dependable distributor. Behm has been a versatile workhouse for EC's back line, but he was hindered by injuries last year.
Now, he's healthy and thrilled to be back in the mix.
"I feel amazing," Behm said. "I love the look of the team. I feel we're going to be a strong contender this year. I love it."
Senior Moises Aldana (Spring Valley, Ill./Hall) returns as the team's goalkeeper after making 87 saves, turning in five clean sheets and logging 1,409 minutes in the net in his first season as a Red Devil.
"First day of practice I noticed that a lot of the freshmen coming in, they know what they're doing, and they're very talented." said Aldana, who transferred from East Central College last year. "And us returners are trying to leave a legacy."
The Red Devils are coming off a 7-10 season that featured a slew of injuries and a few tough losses, two of which came in double overtime.
Barker is hopeful that this squad can reverse some of those results and continue to improve overall. However, he's also aware the maroon and gold has holes to fill due to graduation — none bigger than the one left by James Bowen.
Bowen finished his career with the most shots on goal in program history (101), the second-most goals (36) and the third-most assists (13).
"I could always rely on him to be up top with me," Hansen said of Bowen. "Now I'm going to have a bunch of new guys on the team (up top), so it's going to be a different chemistry.
"It's a big blow, but at the same time, teams that win don't just rely on certain people — it's the teams that all work together."