RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - Entering the second year of men's soccer in the Great American Conference, the two programs that met for the inaugural GAC Tournament title - Oklahoma Baptist and Ouachita - will begin the 2016 season as the co-favorites following a vote of the league's four coaches.
The Tigers won the regular-season title in 2015 with a 4-1-1 record in league play. In front of their home fans, Ouachita turned in shutout wins against Southern Nazarene and the Bison to add the tournament title to their season résumé. Ouachita returns Nelson Pacheco, the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year and Tournament MVP along with unanimous First-Team All-GAC selection and a D2CCA All-Region forward in Tinashe Chigede. Chigede ranked in the top seven in the GAC in six offensive categories. Tyler Mouton, a unanimous pick at defender, plus fellow defender Colton Huie and midfielder Brandon Hom give the Tigers five returning First-Team All-GAC selections
In their first year of Division II play, the Bison posted a 3-3 record in GAC games. Vicente Castillo garnered the Player of the Year honor and David Estrada received the Defensive Player of the Year award. Castillo paced the GAC in all nine major offensive categories - shots, shots per game, goals, goals per game, points, points per game, assists, assists per game and game-winning goals. Both return for 2016 as does Jacob Tunney, who added First-Team honors at midfield as a freshman.
Harding checked in at third in the poll. Phillip White, a 2015 First-Team All-GAC and three-time D2CCA All-Region defender returns for his senior season.Jason Diaz joined White on the D2CCA All-Region Team. He ranked second in shots per game and in game-winning goals. First-year head coach Jon Irelandwill field a team with five additional 2015 All-GAC selections back for 2016 in forwards Barry Foster, Jeremy Nwonumah and Austin McAlister, midfielderVan Thang and defender Aaron Craig.
Southern Nazarene rounded out the poll. Matthew Lawrence, a Second-Team All-GAC defender in 2015 returns for his senior campaign.
The 2016 GAC soccer season begins on Thursday, September 1 with Oklahoma Baptist hosting Oklahoma Christian, Harding facing Dallas Baptist and Southern Nazarene visiting Rogers State. Ouachita travels to Southwest Baptist the following day. The GAC regular-season champion will host the 2016 Championship Tournament, with the semifinals taking place on Friday, November 4 and the title game set for Sunday, November 6.