CHICKASHA – The Drover men have some pretty big shoes to fill this year.

Not only are they practically the same team from a successful 17-2-1 season in 2009, but also, they are defending conference champions and ranked No. 20 in the nation entering 2010.

Also, the Drovers are picked to win the Sooner Athletic Conference for the 2010 season, according to a preseason conference poll.

And that’s exactly what the goal is for this season, Coach Jimmy Hampton said. He expects to push the Drovers to compete for another conference title and another bid to the national championship.

“The men must remain focused and understand their roles on the team and be willing to do the little things right,” he said.

The Drovers went unbeaten in the conference last season. Their one regular season loss was against Briar Cliff early in the season. Their second defeat was in the first round of the national tournament against Hastings College in Nebraska.

Much like the women’s team, the men only graduated two players. The Drovers’ leading scorers and star goalkeeper will be back to help defend the conference title.

“Talent-wise, I think we are close to last year, but it depends on how quickly new players adapt,” Assistant Coach Alexis Vizarelis said. “And how much better the conference is.”

David Otieno, who scored 26 goals for USAO and was showered with honors post season, will come back for his senior year. Otieno was named an NAIA All-American Second Team, SAC Player and Newcomer of the Year and National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America Second Team and All-Southwest Region First Team. Additionally, Otieno had a whooping seven game-winning goals and holds several school records.

Two other major USAO starters, Nikola Cakarevic and Dusan Rasovic, provide strong help to the team. They scored 11 and 10 goals respectively in 2009. Rasovic helped lead the Drovers to a commanding win over Bacone College with a hat trick in September.

Coming off the bench this season will be John Gardner, who was redshirted in 2009 due to a leg injury. Gardner was named an NAIA All-American and All-SAC First Team in 2008 after posting five goals and two assists as a defender and mid-fielder.

Ryan Mcentee played nearly 1,500 minutes defending the goal for the Drovers as a freshman. He made 47 saves and gave up only 12 goals on the season. He ranked No. 19 in the division in goals against average, which sat at 0.740.

Vizarelis said talent will only get the team so far, which is why coaches are pushing the players to continue to work hard both in practice and in game.

“We must stay humble and not get ahead of ourselves and not rely on the efforts of last year,” he said. “I think that we must remember to work hard in everything we do.”

Hampton said both the men’s and women’s teams have a shot at their best seasons in school history.

“I expect to see two teams that come to compete every day — teams that will compete for a result every game and ensure opponents always get our best,” Hampton said.

Published: Aug. 18, 2010