CHICKASHA – Quarterfinals just might not cut it for the Drover men this season. They have another goal in mind: a national title.

“I think if you ask any one of those guys, we’d like to win a national title. That’s our goal,” said head coach Jimmy Hampton. “Whether or not we reach it, we’ll know a little bit more in November, but I think we have some talent and definitely could make some noise.”

Going into the season, the Drovers are tied with Oklahoma Baptist at the No. 1 spot in the Sooner Athletic Conference and sit at 15th in the NAIA.

Despite not winning the conference tournament last year, the Drovers made it farther in the national tournament than any other SAC team. Additionally, they made history for the program by making it to the quarterfinals in Orange Beach, Ala.

While the national title may be the dream, Hampton said the team is still a long way from that goal.

“We have a lot of work to do before we think about Orange Beach,” Hampton said. “Based on first week, men will have to grow a ton as a team to go back to the national tournament.”

The Drovers have 14 teammates coming back but hope to add some depth and fill in the missing spots with some new recruits.

“We have five or six guys we think could probably score 20 points this year,” Hampton said. “So for us, more the question marks and concerns are in the middle of the park.”

Some of USAO’s big scorers, 2009 All-American David Otieno and 2010 All-American and SAC Offensive Player of the Year Nikola Cakarevic, graduated last year. The Drovers also lost some mid-field talent especially with Junior Barros leaving. Barros decided to forgo his last year of eligibility when he graduated in the spring.

Hampton is hoping to see the players they’ve brought in fill the spots as needed.

“Someone will have to separate himself as a goal scorer and as a center mid-fielder as we appear very thin there without Barros,” Hampton said.

Still strong in the mid-field, however, is Niall Crick, a 2010 NAIA All-American Third Team and All-SAC First Team. The senior had nine assists and seven goals in 2010 and led the team in 2009 with 19 assists.

Sophomore Nicolas Alberto, who was named SAC Newcomer of the Year in 2010 after scoring 11 goals and helping with another seven assists, will be back for his second season with the Drovers.

Also returning is the Drovers’ lead keeper, Ryan Mcentee. As a sophomore in 2010, Mcentee played more than 1,800 minutes. He recorded 51 saves throughout the season. To help him out, Hampton brought in Brian Byars, a sophomore keeper from Midwestern State, and Richard O’Rourke, a sophomore keeper from Dublin, Ireland.

“I could probably name three starters,” Hampton said. “The rest will be decided over the next three weeks. It’s wide open at this time. Players need to separate themselves, and I don’t see that yet on men.”

Only the next few months will tell whether the Drovers can rally and achieve their lofty goal. But one thing is for certain, the Drovers will fight to continue the success of their predecessors.

Published: Aug. 23, 2011