MACON, Ga. - The Stetson men's soccer team was picked third in the Atlantic Sun Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, as announced by the league on Thursday. Additionally, seniors Jonathan Mendoza, Luis Ocejo, and Kai Eckenrode were each recognized as individuals by the conference's coaches.
Following an Atlantic Sun Tournament semifinals loss on penalties in 2011, Stetson was selected to finish third in the conference in the 2012 preseason poll with 61 points. The Hatters finished just behind last year's finalists, ETSU and FGCU, which took first and second, respectively. The Bucs, runners-up a year ago, totaled 78 points and six first place votes, while last season's league champion Eagles earned 75 points and the remaining three first place nods.
"I never want to be worried about polls," Head Coach T. Logan Fleck said regarding the announcement. "We always pay more attention to what's going on inside the circle of our team. How we play has always been the paramount thing since I came here. My biggest thing is to get the players to believe they can do something that's never been done. It will take a lot of hard work, but we love every bit of it."
Stetson placed higher than the other six teams in the conference. Mercer was just behind the Hatters in fourth with 53 points. Jacksonville and Lipscomb tied for fifth with 36 points each, while USC Upstate earned 28 points and placed seventh. North Florida and newcomer to the league Northern Kentucky tied for eighth with 19 points.
Mendoza backed up his A-Sun Player of the Year accolades from last year with a Preseason Player of the Year honor on Thursday. The midfielder, who led the Hatters with 11 goals and five assists in 2011, was also named to the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team as one of three midfielders honored.
"This is what he's worked so hard for," Fleck said of Mendoza. "We all know that Jonny is a special player, and now he's taken it to a level that very few people probably thought he ever would. Jonny's a team player, though, and he wants Stetson to get further than it ever has in the NCAA Tournament this year. That's one of the things that makes him such a special player. I'm very excited for him, because he's put in all the hard work, and now it's time for him to go out and show why he is so special."
Just as he did at the end of last season, Ocejo complimented Mendoza's award by earning Preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors from the conference on Thursday. The senior captain was selected by the coaches as the top defender in the league and was one of five defenders selected to the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team.
"Luis is the bolt of our defense," Fleck said. "He's very calm under pressure, and he's somebody that we've built a solid defense around. He has led this team and played extremely hard for his teammates as a captain. Luis doesn't accept anything but the very best from the rest of the team, because that's what he puts into it every day."
Finally, Eckenrode was one of three forwards selected to the Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Conference Team. The senior scored four goals and tallied six assists in 2011, and will help lead the Hatter offense this fall.
"He's our rhythm player, deciding whether we go forward or go wide," Fleck said of Eckenrode. "He gets other players involved all the time by switching the ball. Kai is technically very clean, and he can strike a ball on a dime. When he has confidence there's not a lot Kai doesn't think he can do, and we like him in that state of mind."
Stetson opens the season with three road games, beginning on August 25 at Penn State. The Hatters return to DeLand for the home opener at the newly renovated Stetson Soccer Complex on September 7 against A-Sun opponent Jacksonville.