FLORENCE, Ky. – Defending NAIA men’s soccer national champion University of Rio Grande (Ohio) is no surprise as the preseason favorite in the 2016 River States Conference Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches’ Poll announced by the league office on Friday.
The RedStorm has several NAIA All-Americans returning from last year’s team that was 23-1 overall and 6-0 conference on its way to the national title. Rio Grande received the maximum number of eight possible first-place votes and received 64 points in the polling of the league’s coaches.
Rio Grande was undefeated in the conference regular season last year, the final season for the league being known as the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The league changed its name to River States Conference effective July 1, 2016. Rio Grande has won the last two conference tournament titles. Last season, the RedStorm spent the entire year ranked No.1 in the nation.
WVU Tech, which embarks on its second year in the conference, came in second in the preseason poll. The Golden Bears earned 54 points in the voting, which was 10 behind Rio Grande.
WVU Tech, 16-3 overall and 5-1 KIAC last year, spent several weeks ranked in the NAIA Top 25 Poll at the end of last year. They received an at-large bid to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round as KIAC tournament runner-up.
Point Park (Pa.) University placed third in the preseason poll with 53 points, one behind WVU Tech. The Pioneers received the final first-place vote and are coming off a season of 10-7-1 overall, 4-2 conference and a KIAC Tournament semifinal loss at WVU Tech.
Asbury (Ky.) University, which received 40 points, came in fourth in the poll after reaching the KIAC Tournament semifinals last year at 6-13 overall, 3-3 conference. The Eagles won a home playoff game over Brescia, 1-0.
Midway (Ky.) University placed fifth in the poll with 35 points and is in its first year fielding a men’s soccer team. The Eagles have taken on many players and the head coach of nearby St. Catharine (Ky.) College, an NAIA school that closed its operations this summer. St. Catharine was 11-8 in the Mid-South Conference to place fourth behind three nationally-ranked teams.
Ohio Christian (8-11, 2-4 KIAC) placed sixth in the poll with 29 points and is in its first year of playoff eligibility in the conference. The Trailblazers joined the conference last year but were not eligible for KIAC or NAIA postseason as first-year NAIA members.
The River States Conference men’s soccer league boasts its most depth in recent memory with nine teams. Rounding out the final three are Brescia (Ky.) University (1-5 KIAC) and Cincinnati Christian University (0-6 KIAC) in a tie for seventh and Carlow (Pa.) University’s first-year men’s soccer program in ninth.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.