After recording a school record-tying 15 wins and reaching the NCAA Tournament Second Round a season ago, the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team returned to DeKalb on Tuesday and went through their first practice session Wednesday morning.
“It’s great to get the guys back,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “On the whole, I’ve been pleased with the general mood of our group, the energy of our group. The new guys are getting used to things quickly, they are coming along fine, which is always one of the key parts of preseason. But there is no way around the fact that we have a lot of work to do.”
The Huskies received votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)/Continental Tire Preseason Poll, released on Tuesday. NIU was one of three Mid-American Conference teams to receive recognition in the poll, along with No. 10 Akron and conference newcomer West Virginia, who was also among the schools receiving votes.
In addition to Akron, NIU will face three other foes selected in the top-20 of the preseason ranking. The Huskies will begin the season on the road against No. 3 Creighton (Aug. 24) while also facing road tests against No. 6 New Mexico (Sept. 23) and No. 20 Northwestern (Oct. 24).
The Huskies return eight starters from last season’s MAC Tournament Championship team, including senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) and leading scorer, junior forward James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s).
Godsey started all 21 matches for the Huskies in goal last season and recorded 12 shutouts with a 0.70 goals against average. Stevenson scored a team-high 15 points with a team-best six goals.
In addition to Stevenson, the Huskies return each of the seven other players that scored multiple goals last season, a group headed by junior midfielder Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) and fifth-year senior defender Pat Sloan (Lisle, Ill./Benet Academy), who each found the net four times in 2011.
NIU finished last season with a 15-6-0 record and reached as high as No. 13 in the adidas/NSCAA national ranking and No. 16 in the RPI. The Huskies finished the season ranked No. 24 in the RPI.
The 2012 season begins with an exhibition contest against Notre Dame on Sunday, Aug. 12 at 12:30 p.m., at the NIU Soccer Complex. The Huskies open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 24 when they travel to Omaha, Neb., to meet No. 3 Creighton at 7 p.m.