After back-to-back berths in the NJCAA Division I national tournament, the Barton Community College men’s soccer team enters the season ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll.
While it isn’t the highest the Cougars have been ranked — the highest being a No. 2 ranking during mid-season play in 2008 — it is the highest Barton has been ranked in a preseason poll.
According to BCC head coach Oliver Twelvetrees, the ranking isn’t enough for the Cougars.
“We want that No. 1 ranking,” Twelvetrees said. “We’ve got a lot of talent. The guys are hungry. They came very close to winning it all last year.”
Barton has lost every player that was on the 2009 team that finished in seventh place at the NJCAA tournament, due to the quick turnaround of juco sports.
The Cougars have also lost four impact players from last year’s team that captured third place on the national stage — Kevin Ellis, Ricardo Yeverino, Aaron Appel and Ous Senghore.
Chief among them is Ellis, who signed to play for Sporting KC in February, and has been on the bench in a few games in his first season with the team.
Twelvetrees said that while the loss of last season’s sophomores is hard, there are plenty of talent on the team.
“A lot of guys are back,” Twelvetrees said. “We weren’t a one- or two-man team. We were very much a team unit, and we feel that we can achieve that and more as long as we stay together as a team and are unselfish. We need to keep pushing ourselves every day.”
Offensively, the Cougars will feel the impact of losing their top goal-scorer from last season, Ricardo Yeverino, who scored 18 goals and had six assists.
However, Twelvetrees expects Ahmad Bah, who stepped up his attack during the final games of the regular season, to be the scoring threat for the Cougars this year. Bah had five goals and six assists last season.
“We lost a lot of goals,” Twelvetrees said. “I think Ahmad Bah is going to have a big year. He’s from Minnesota. He was very dangerous last year, and he really improved in like the last five or six games of the season. He scored a lot of goals. He was all-tournament team at the national tournament.
“I think he’s going to have a big year.”
The Cougars are returning Italo Arcelino, who scored five goals last season as a defender.
“We do have some of our returning defenders back as well,” Twelvetrees said. “Italo Arcelino is a very good defender and he’ll lead the back line for us. He can also score goals, too. So if we’re struggling for goals, we may even see him up like we did last year.”
Barton also graduated its starting goalkeeper, opening the job up for the three players contending for the position — Cesar Flores, who transferred from Garden City this year, Kyle Slagle, who was the 6-foot-4 backup for Nathan Garrison last season and Nick Alexander, a freshman from Delaware.
“We’ve got three guys battling for the spot,” Twevletrees said. “It’s going to be a battle. All three of them are going to make the roster and all three of them are going to battle for playing time.
“They are all pretty even to be honest. It’s going to be exciting to see who’s going to step up.”
The Cougars will test their ranking early against top 10 competitors with an Aug. 28 meeting with No. 7-ranked Otero (Colo.) Junior College, a Sept. 3 clash with top-ranked Tyler (Texas) Junior College and a game against No. 9 San Jacinto (Texas) on Sept. 4.
“It’s going to be tough, but that’s how we like to do it,” Twelvetrees said. “We like to challenge ourselves against the best teams and see if we can raise that ranking. If we start out well, we might find ourselves at No. 1, and maybe we can stay there all year. That’s the goal.
“If they play against the toughest teams early, nothing we see in the (Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference) or the region is going to be as good, and it prepares them for the highly-charged games come region tournament time.”