Bartlesville, OK — Heartbreak, thy name is Hastings. It’s been 239 days since that fateful Nov. 17, 2012, when Hastings humbled the Oklahoma Wesleyan University men’s soccer team, 4-1, in the NAIA national tournament.
How big was that loss?
The OKWU Eagles had simply been unbeatable up to that point.
No — they had been completely unbeatable.
Prior to that loss — which was made doubly-painful because it occurred on OKWU’s homefield — the Eagles had carved out a 19-0-1 record.
They were galloping along on a 15-game winning streak when Hastings knocked them out of the saddle.
The good news is OKWU returns all its season-ending regulars from last year’s blockbuster team.
“We had a tremendous season,” returning veteran head coach Jamie Peterson said about the 2012 campaign.
A “but” quickly followed.
“But, it was a disappointment the way it ended. It was an incredible season and that was a tough way to go. I think that’s only to put more hunger in us this year. We’ve got more to prove than we did last year.”
That also means the Eagles have to shed more sweat and put more effort into preparation.
“The expectations are obvious,” Peterson explained. “We’re going to have to work twice as hard as we did last year. We can’t sneak up on anybody this year. Our coaches’ job will be to make sure we’re prepared for every game.”
The Eagles are set to open practice Aug. 10.
They will eye key preseason tests against powerhouses Midwestern State and University of Science and Arts before surging into the season.
OKWU players understand what has to be done.
They boast a veteran team with last year’s main producers returning, led by senior goalie Ryan Mcentee and forwards Jack McGowan (sophomore), Lucas Almeida (senior) and Lucas Cordiero (junior).
Last season, Mcentee surrendered an average of only two goals every three matches, which ranked him No. 3 in the nation (NAIA). He started 20 of the 21 matches, with Jack Ord as his backup.
Mcentee made 62 saves while fashioning a 19-1-1 mark.
McGowan slammed the ball into the net 21 times to lead the Eagles in goals, followed by Almeida with 18 and Cordiero with 17.
But, Almeida led the nation with 26 assists, which gave him a team-high 60 points, followed by McGowan (12 assists) with 54 points.
Almeida added 10 assists.
Andres Garcharna also came on strong and tallied double-digit goals (11), as OKWU’s fourth most-dangerous scoring option.
Ivan Ristic added six goals.
As a team, the Eagles averaged 4.4 goals of offense per game.
“We’re a very attack-oriented team,” explained Peterson. “Last year we were one of the top teams in the nation in scoring.”
In fact, the Eagles were No. 2 in goals per game, No. 1 in shots per game (23.76) and No. 3 in shots on goal per game (11.67).
But, OKWU’s lethal offensive assault didn’t bake the whole cake.
“What it came down and what the guys bought into was our defensive philosophy, which was the backbone of our team,” Peterson said. “Plus, we worked hard every day and showed up on the field to play every day.”
Key defensive warriors for the Eagles included Ben Williams, Ivan Ristic, Aaron Terrill, and Bartlesville High School product Hector Herrera, who is entering his final campaign.
Williams “was our outside back and a vocal leader on the backline,” said Peterson.
The Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference named Ristic the Newcomer of the Year.
Herrera fought a stiff battle last season against injuries and has had some back surgery, Peterson said.
“Hopefully he’ll be more of an impact player going into his senior year,” the coach added.
Another former Bartlesville High School standout on the roster is Josh Mason.
Appearing last season in 13 matches (with one goal), Mason has had a good offseason of preparation, Peterson said.
In addition to his returnees, Peterson also has hit the recruiting trail to upgrade the quality and depth of his squad.
Five Serbian players will join the roster and Peterson is bringing in an experienced centerback.
The Eagles will have to coronate a new captain following the graduation departure of David Critchley.
Critchley took up residence for most of last season on the sideline following an injury.
“We did miss his leadership,” Peterson said. “He’s a high character kid.”
But, with 10 starters returning — plus battle-tested reserves and new players — Peterson has every reason to feel the pressure — and the pleasure — of guiding one of the NAIA’s national powerhouses into the season wars.
Peterson also will have the advantage of coaching only the Eagles this year, after serving the past two years as both the men’s and ladies’ head coaches.
The school has assigned Vladan Glavonic as the new Lady Eagles’ head coach.
After guiding OKWU to the NAIA national tourney — and a top five ranking in the nation — Peterson has been selected to instruct at the EXACT Soccer ID Camp.
The prestigious opportunity will take place next weekend, at the University of Dallas.
During his three years as men’s head coach, Peterson has registered a 45-11-6 career mark.