Third Time's The Charm: Clan Favorites To Defend GNAC Title
The Clan finished 2017 with an 11-3-4 overall record and a GNAC championship.
The Clan finished 2017 with an 11-3-4 overall record and a GNAC championship.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Fresh off a second consecutive conference title and its sixth championship in the past eight years, Simon Fraser enters the 2018 campaign as unanimous favorites to defend its title in the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Men’s Soccer Coaches Poll.

The Clan received all seven first-place votes as they return seven starters from last year’s club. Seattle Pacific, coming off a second-place finish in 2017, was picked second with 35 points. Montana State Billings was selected third (32 pts.), followed by Western Washington (30 pts.), Northwest Nazarene (25 pts.), Concordia (14 pts.) and Saint Martin’s (11 pts.).

Simon Fraser led all teams in goals, shots and fewest goals allowed last season. Finishing with a mark of 11-3-4 (7-2-3 GNAC), the team outshot opponents by a 278-115 margin and scored 2.11 goals per game. It only lost two regular season matches, both in GNAC action (at Concordia and at Montana State Billings). The conference title was the program’s sixth since joining the GNAC in 2010.

The Clan return a host of standouts, including brothers Marcello Polisi and Matteo Polisi. Marcello was named the GNAC Player of the Year as a freshman a year ago, starting all 18 matches and logging nearly 1,500 minutes for head coach Clint Schneider. Matteo, meanwhile, earned all-conference and GNAC Freshman of the Year honors after tallying 10 goals and four assists in his first season in Burnaby.

Now in his senior season, midfielder Mamadi Camara is back after being named First Team All-GNAC and United Soccer Coaches All-West Region. Camara helped his side dominate the middle of the pitch while also scoring six goals in 2017. Defender Michael North, midfielder Kyle Jones and forward Connor Glennon are all back this year after receiving all-conference honors. They will join defender Jeff Cadman who started 17 games as a sophomore last season.

Taking the majority of second-place votes is Seattle Pacific. The Falcons finished 2017 with an 11-5-1 record and at one point put together a five-match unbeaten streak.

Five starters are back from the team that dropped just five matches, including sophomore midfielder Jose Benavides. Benavides was an All-GNAC Honorable Mention recipient as a freshman and will look to lead Seattle Pacific to its sixth NCAA Division II Tournament berth since 2011. Bolstering the Falcons defense will be keeper Kary Whitney, returning for his senior season after starting 16 matches in goal a year ago.

Head coach Mark Collings’ side led the GNAC in goals per game and assists last year and it will look for more of the same this season.

After finishing in a tie for third in 2017, Montana State Billings was voted to the same spot this season.

The team’s 36 goals were bested only by Simon Fraser as its strong offensive attack has become a staple under the guidance of head coach Alex Balog.

This season should offer more of the same as Guillaume Kremer returns for his senior season. Kremer scored nine goals last year and earned All-GNAC First Team and D2CCA All-West Region Second Team honors. He will be joined by fellow senior Ricardo Palomino (All-GNAC Honorable Mention in 2016 with six goals), who will be attacking from the forward position once again after missing nearly all of last year with an injury.

Following closely behind is Western Washington, snagging fourth place in this year’s preseason poll. The Vikings finished in a tie for third in 2017.

Six starters are back from that club, headlined by midfielder Georg Cholewa. A freshman last season, Cholewa was named All-GNAC Honorable Mention after pacing the Vikings with consistency from the center of the pitch. Senior midfielder Drew Barker is also back after redshirting last season.

A stout defensive effort carried Western Washington at times a year ago and similar results will be expected from senior defenders Garrett Strawn and Stephen Jinneman. Their team finished second in the GNAC a year ago with just 1.41 goals allowed per game.

Coming in fifth place is Northwest Nazarene, which will be looking to capitalize on last season’s third-place finish. The Nighthawks return seven starters and 17 letterwinners from that club.

No returning keeper had as many shutouts as Jacob Hillyer did as a freshman in 2017. Replicating that kind of success by the Nighthawks defense will be huge if they figure to finish in the upper half of the conference once again. Also back is forward Jake Levine (five goals and three assists in 2017) and midfielder Aleksa Mitrovic, both of which are coming off campaigns that earned them All-GNAC honors.

After a campaign that saw Concordia finish 5-10-2, the Cavaliers return a conference-leading nine starters in an effort to improve on last year’s sixth-place finish. The most notable returners are forward Nick Evans and defender Lewis Coates as both were named to the All-GNAC Second Team at the conclusion of last season.

Concordia also brings back head coach Dan Birkey for a 31st season of coaching in 2018. Birkey has posted a career record of 379-197-33.

Saint Martin’s rounds out the voting after going 2-14-1 last season. The 2018 squad will be headlined by last season’s GNAC Newcomer of the Year as forward Brandon Madsen is back and will look to parlay some of the brilliance from a 16-goal campaign into some good fortune this year. Madsen’s 0.94 goals per game ranked sixth nationally in Division II.

Fellow junior Sebastian Navarro returns as well, bolstering a strong back line for the Saints. Navarro finished 2017 ranked third nationally in assists per game at 0.69.

All seven GNAC teams will begin regular season action on August 30-31 against non-conference opponents. Conference play is slated to start on September 20.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2017 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Simon Fraser (7) 11-3-4 7-2-3 (1st) 49
2. Seattle Pacific 11-5-1 7-4-1 (2nd) 35
3. Montana State Billings 9-10-0 6-6-0 (Tie 3rd) 32
4. Western Washington 6-6-5 5-4-3 (Tie 3rd) 30
5. Northwest Nazarene 8-6-3 5-4-3 (Tie 3rd) 25
6. Concordia 5-10-2 4-7-1 (6th) 14
7. Saint Martin's 2-14-1 2-9-1 (7th) 11
Points awarded on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.