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UMM, St. Scholastica tie for first in UMAC men's soccer pre-season poll

For the past two years, the College of St. Scholastica has claimed the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) regular season championship. In the same two years, the University of Minnesota, Morris has beaten St. Scholastica in the UMAC post-season tournament to claim its championship trophy, leaving the league's coaches in a deadlock when trying to predict who will win the conference title in 2009. Both the Saints and Cougars received 46 points and four first-place votes in the pre-season coaches' poll, leaving the decision to the 2009 season to settle the score.

St. Scholastica has won three UMAC championships within Barry Chastey's four seasons as head coach, going a combined 25-2-1 in conference play in the last two campaigns. The 2008 Saints squad that went 11-2-1 was a young one that won the conference. St. Scholastica returns that now-veteran team that includes 11 juniors and a lone senior in Rob Miller, a two-time All-UMAC selection. 2007 UMAC Player of the Year Toby Peter headlines CSS's junior class, joined by 2008 all-conference honorable mention player Jermaine Dacres.

UMM returns a hearty number of men as well, welcoming back 19 players from last year's team that finished 11-3 in UMAC play and 18-4 overall. Two of UMM's key returners are 2008 UMAC Tournament MVP Patrick O'Connor and 2008 UMAC Player of the Year Brent Diggs. Diggs, a forward who led the UMAC in goals scored last year, was also named to the NSCAA/Adidas All-Region team. Morris just missed out on a Pool B bid to the NCAA tournament in 2008, and an early season battle against Augsburg College on Sept. 1 could be an indication of how good the Cougars can be in 2009.   

Northwestern College, who edged Presentation College by a mere point in the pre-season coaches' poll, looks to regain its position as a contender for the UMAC championship in 2009 after finishing last season with a 7-5-2 record that was good for fourth place. Eagles head coach Greg Wheaton will look for a consistent scorer to emerge from his team's roster. Sophomore Matt Olson, who scored five goals in his debut season of 2008, could be the man that Wheaton is looking for.

Presentation College made a late rally last season to claim a tie for third place in the league's final standings at 7-5-2. Under second-year head coach Steve Cogley, the Saints hope to build on last year's success as Presentation was predicted to finish fourth in the conference. UMAC All-Conference returners in Collin Heupal, Andrew Peterson, Joe Romero and Brandon Spanier are veterans and will be heavily relied upon for stability and leadership amongst the group.

Martin Luther College, claiming fifth place in the pre-season poll with 22 points, hopes to continue where it left off in 2008, as the Knights only lost one of their final five UMAC games. Martin Luther head coach Paul Koelpin will have an experienced defense to rely on, led by seniors Jon Huebner and Andy Danner. 

Crown College, who received 18 points for sixth place in the coaches' poll, returns seven starters to a squad that was dominated by freshmen last year. All-conference striker Jon Schultz is joined by a trio of junior returners in Nathan Greene, Mark Matson and Andrew Burg, who hope to improve upon 2008's 5-9 UMAC finish. 

Bethany Lutheran College trailed Crown by just a point in the poll, earning 17 points and seventh place. The Vikings suffered a disappointing season in 2008, finishing 3-11 in league play. Bethany head coach Rob Pipal hopes that his core group of eight returning starters will offer more experience on the pitch. Pipal noted that playing together and developing better overall skills as a team will be keys to a successful season. Sophomore Joe Nuah, a UMAC All-Conference selection, led the Vikings with six goals in 2008.

Northland College rounds out the eight UMAC teams with eight points. Coming off a 2-11-1 conference record from 2008, the LumberJacks have many holes to fill during the 2009 season. Attempting to stabilize Northland's defensive front will be returning goalkeeper Matt Fryer. 

All eight UMAC teams will be in action beginning on Sept. 1, with the conference schedule commencing on Sept. 9. At the conclusion of the 2009 regular season, the league's top four teams will participate in the UMAC Conference Tournament on Nov. 3 and 7.