EUREKA – The Eureka men's soccer team didn't love last week's turn of events, but they've made this week all the more exciting.
Last Saturday, the Red Devils were scheduled to open their season on the road against an Emmaus team that they had blown out 8-0 in a preseason exhibition at McKinzie Field.
However, in the middle of the week, Emmaus reported that it had sustained too many injuries to safely field a team, so the match was cancelled and the Red Devils' season opener was pushed back.
"The players definitely wanted to have a chance to play," EC men's soccer coach Dwain Barker said. "It would have been nice to get a game under our belt, but we've gone through our own training sessions to make up for that."
Over the past week, Barker has been able to take practice intensity up a level to help prepare his team for the real thing.
On Thursday at 1 p.m., the Red Devils will their fall 2021 season debut against Mississippi University for Women on their home turf at McKinzie Field. Then, 24 hours later, they'll face the men from Mississippi University for Women again before the team makes the 10-hour drive home.
The Owls are set to join the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in two years, but are still in the process of transitioning from NAIA to NCAA Division III. Thursday's matchup will be the first between the two teams in their programs' histories, and Barker admits that he has little idea what to expect from the visiting team.
But he definitely has strong feelings about his side. This year, the Red Devils have 19 players on the roster, giving them a depth that they've lacked in recent years. And after the Emmaus blowout, and what he's seen in practice, Barker believes this group can be special.
"Honestly, we're feeling pretty good," he said. "I feel that our players are excited to play. They're definitely getting a quicker bond than our past groups, which is exciting going forward.
"We have two back-to-back games that are supposed be tough. We have our first conference game coming up next week, so these two games give us a chance to prepare."
This fall, the Red Devils will mix experienced veterans with a slew of exciting new players.
In net, sophomore Isaac Hughes (Westville, Ill./Westville) will be the starting goalkeeper after playing in the field for most of the spring.
The back line will feature two seasoned seniors in Austin Marburger (Litchfield, Ill./Litchfield) and Ignacio Gutierrez (Madrid, Spain/El Prado), as well a precocious freshman newcomer in Teddy Wesoloski (McDonough, Ga./Ola). In front of them will be two more talented newcomers in Joshua Bautista (Peoria, Ill./Limestone) and Jake Edmondson (Monticello, Ill./Monticello) in the holding midfielder role.
Junior Jerry Anderson (El Paso, Texas/San Elizario) and newcomer Bawi Sang (Thang Tlang, Myanmar/ Roger C Sullivan) will demonstrate speed on the outside, and in the middle, EC welcomes Kamiel Sauer (Haarlem, Netherlands / Coornhert Lyceum) – a crafty lefty from the Netherlands who has strong technical skills.
Up top, the Red Devils return senior leader Diego Cintora (Waseka, Ill./Watseka), who has recorded five goals and four assists in the past three years, and welcome freshman Nathan Macario (Safford, Ariz./Safford), another promising out-of-state talent.
Barker says that, unlike past years, he has plenty of other players who can come off the bench and contribute without giving up anything.
The team is particularly deep in young attackers. Justin Siebert (Hopedale, Ill./Olympia) and Will Wiegand (Metamora, Ill./Metamora) are enthusiastic first options off the bench at forward, followed by Micah Tyler (Atlanta, Ga./Therrell) and Casey Frietsch (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria). All are freshmen.
"I think we can create a lot of noise this conference season," Barker said. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."