PEORIA, Ill. – The Bradley Soccer team begins preparation for its 26th season Wednesday with the start of preseason training camp, and a roster that includes 12 newcomers will open the season ranked 25th nationally by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer National Preseason Rankings were released Tuesday and the Braves checked in at No. 25. The preseason poll also included a pair of 2012 Bradley opponents: Creighton (Oct. 20) is preseason No. 3, while Northwestern (Oct. 3) is preseason No. 20.
While 17th-year head coach Jim DeRose will be working the 12 newcomers into the lineup, he also welcomes back 13 lettermen and four redshirts from the 2011 squad that posted a 15-6-2 overall record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after earning consecutive trips to the postseason for the first time in program history.
DeRose and his dozen rookies have a core group of veterans to lean on for leadership. The defense is anchored by junior goalkeeper Brian Billings (Apple Valley, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s), while senior forward Jochen Graf (Double Oak, Texas/Faustina Academy) is the team’s top returning scorer.
Billings has started 40 games between the pipes the last two seasons and enters the 2012 campaign third in program history with a 0.797 career saves percentage, a 1.12 career goals against average and a 0.613 career winning percentage (22-13-5). Named to the MVC All-Tournament team in each of his first two years, Billings was a second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection and a third-team NSCAA All-Midwest Region pick in 2011.
Billing is supported by an experienced back line, which will return seniors Tapiwa Machingauta (Marondera, Zimbabwe) and Matt Kuehl (South Beloit, Ill./Hononegah H.S.), as well as junior Jason Coon (Charleston, Ill./Charleston H.S.), who was an honorable mention All-MVC pick last year.
Graf also was an honorable mention All-MVC selection in 2011 after tying for second on the team with four goals and finishing third with 11 total points. Including a goal and an assist during Bradley’s 2011 NCAA Tournament run, Graf is the team’s active career leader with 28 points, eight goals and 12 assists.
The Braves will host a pair of preseason events, beginning with the annual Red-White Scrimmage Saturday at 7 p.m. at Peoria Notre Dame High School. The soccer exhibition game versus Dayton (7:30 p.m. kickoff) will be the featured attraction of the Bradley Community Night event Tuesday at McClallen Park in Morton. Admission to both preseason events is free.