(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
Only two starters graduated, in leading goal scorer Tanner Fritz and Ryan Gibson.
Returning is what head coach Derrick Long calls, "the fastest team I've had" since he took over the soccer program five years ago.
"I expect a stronger year," said Long. "We kind of had a down year last season, but it was mainly because we lost a lot of starters from the year before. We only lost one or two key guys that got a lot of playing time last year. We've got a lot of returning starters coming back. Just having another year's experience under our belt should be key for us."
Senior Brad Deere, who was second on the team in goals and junior E.C. Atchison, who led the team in assists, both return for the Bulldogs.
Long is hoping his team's speed will put the team over the top this year.
"We've got a lot of speed up top this year with Ryan Beaird, Brad Deere and J.R. Bizzell," said Long. "There's a lot of speed right there and we're hoping we can score some goals with our speed alone. Just watching Notre Dame last year, they won a lot of games with their speed. I'm hoping that will be a good component for us this year."
Not only speed, but Long's team is also loaded with experienced players, some of which have been starting for three years.
"We've got a lot of experience returning and we're pretty strong with Richard Landers and Scott Gardner in the backfield and Atchison in the middle," said Long. "All three of them played almost all the minutes of every game last year. We should be strong there. I'm hoping for a big year from E.C. Atchison in the middle."
Also returning for the Bulldogs is senior goalkeeper Jason Deere.
While Long doesn't want to put pressure on the team by setting a number of wins, he does say that his teams have the same goal every year.
"We want to make it to the district championship, which we haven't ever done," he said. "We've gotten close a couple times but we want to make it. Once we get there we'll have a good chance of winning, but it's hard getting there."
One of the reasons it may be tough is the fact that Sikeston is in the same district as powerhouse Notre Dame, the defending Class 2 state champions.
"Notre Dame's always the team that everyone's shooting for and they lost some really key guys, two all-staters for sure," said Long. "Just by them losing some guys and us not losing any, maybe we can take a step forward there."
Sikeston's first game will be in the Notre Dame Tournament Sept. 4-6.
The Bulldogs' first home game will be Sept. 10 when they host Kennett at 4 p.m.