KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Coming off the program’s first trip to the NCAA Division II National Semifinals, the Fort Hays State men’s soccer team heads into the 2019 season ranked third in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Top 25, announced Tuesday by the organization. It is the best ranking in program history after the Tigers wrapped up 2018 ranked fourth in the country.
This is the sixth time that Fort Hays State has been mentioned in the preseason coaches poll in the nine-year history of the program. The Tigers were listed in the initial top 25 for five consecutive seasons from 2013 through 2017 before they opened last year unranked. FHSU’s previous top preseason ranking was No. 11 in 2017.
The Tigers earned a spot in the NCAA Division II Championship tournament for a seventh-straight season in 2018, the second-longest active streak in the nation (LIU Post, eight years). Fort Hays State has won four of the last five Central Region championships, leading to three trips to the national quarterfinals before last year’s appearance in the Final Four.
The Tigers return five All-Conference performers and three All-Region athletes from last year’s team that finished the year 17-2-2. Included in that list is Santiago Agudelo, the reigning D2CCA National Player of the Year. Agudelo etched his name up and down the record books in his junior campaign, scoring 26 goals alongside six assists. Other returning All-Region honorees include defender Sergio Villalba and midfielder Moritz Walther.
The new season will be the first year under new head coach Gerry Cleary, announced as the second head coach in program history in early 2019. Cleary has earned three national titles as a head coach, winning two NAIA championships with the Martin Methodist women’s program before leading the Martin Methodist men’s squad to the 2013 national title.
After turning in the first perfect MIAA record in history (8-0-0), the Tigers will compete in the Great American Conference beginning in 2019. The MIAA and GAC announced a sport sponsorship partnership last year in which the MIAA will oversee men’s tennis competition while the GAC administers men’s soccer. The Tigers will play a 14-game double round-robin conference schedule against Newman, Northeastern State, Rogers State, Harding, Oklahoma Baptist, Ouachita Baptist and Southern Nazarene. The RiverHawks of Northeastern State are the only other conference rival listed in the preseason top 25, entering the year ranked 22nd.
The Tigers open the year at home against perennial power Rockhurst on Thursday, September 5 at 7 p.m., the first of eight regular season home matches.