The Ashland University men's soccer team proved last year that it could compete among the best teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The 31 goals scored by the Eagles were the third-most in the conference as they nearly doubled their total from the 2016 season. The biggest improvements needed come on the defensive end as the Eagles conceded 42 goals, including 30 that came in the second half and overtime.
"Our players learned there is no margin for error at this level," said head coach Oliver Slawson. "We must be ready to play every game, every half."
The 2018 campaign will mark the third season for the men's soccer program since returning from a three-year hiatus at Ashland. None of the major contributors last season were upperclassmen, so all of the youth in the squad has seen a significant amount of playing time.
The Eagles, who were 7-9-1 last season and finished just a point out of a place in the GLIAC Tournament, will use that growth and added maturity to build on the first two seasons in the hopes of moving up in the GLIAC standings.
"We've been able to attract recruits because they've seen the style we play, they've seen the types of players we have on the roster," Slawson said. "They want to be a part of what we're putting together at Ashland."
Ashland will also benefit from a pair of players returning from injury in sophomore Kieran Paterson and junior Tomas Cordiero. Paterson was expected to play up front last season, but was injured in his first appearance of the season, while Cordiero missed all year after leading the Eagles with four goals in the inaugural season in 2016.
The Eagles will have to contend with a tough conference again this season, but the addition of those players, the growth of their current talent, and mixing in a wealth of newcomers should spell success for a program growing in the right direction.
Ashland opens the season on Aug. 30 against Lake Erie – the first of five straight home games to start the campaign. The Eagles were 4-3-1 at Ferguson Field last season and averaged 2.4 goals per game on their home turf.