As a result, the Bulldogs intend to unveil a more attack-oriented offense.
"Last year we played defensively, concentrating on stopping the other team's scoring and taking our chances when we got them," said Sikeston's sixth-year coach Derrick Long, "but this year we're trying to pick up the offense to utilize our speed and experience."
A lineup loaded with 10 full-time and part-time starters from last season return.
The Bulldogs' top scorer and assist leader J. R. Bizzell is back, along with second-leading point producer Blake Taylor and assist runner-up E. C. Atchison.
Senior striker Bizzell, a first team all-SEMO Conference selection in 2003, led the Bulldogs with 23 goals and 20 assists. Sophomore forward Taylor added 11 goals in a solid freshman season, while Atchison, a senior midfielder, assisted on 14 goals and chipped in with four scores.
"Having Bizzell back with the more experienced Chris Cornell and Taylor, who were freshmen starters for us last year, will definitely improve our offense," said Long.
Cornell, a sophomore forward, flanks Bizzell and Taylor on the front line, while senior Martin Schaefer and junior Ryan Beaird join Atchison at midfield.
Starters at defender are seniors Richard Landers, Joel Kinder and Eric Chappell and junior Scott Gardner. Senior Win Dolan is the top reserve.
The big question mark, position-wise, is goalkeeper.
The loss to graduation of stalwart goalie Jason Deere opened competition for the position between inexperienced junior Cody Cooper and first-year varsity player Scott Droddy.
"They're neck-and-neck right now," said Long, "and that's good. If there's an injury, we know there's somebody that can step right in, and, at any time, we can switch it up."
Aside from the experience factor, Long counts speed as a major strength of this Bulldog squad.
"We have speed at every position," he said, "and in soccer, speed kills."
The Bulldogs also seem to possess their fair share of the immeasurables, such as heart and desire.
Said Long, "With this group of guys, the effort's always there. Just with that, I know we have a chance every game."
Sikeston, a Class 2 school, finished 10-13 last season, six wins better than the previous year, but was winless (0-8) in the tough SEMO Conference, which includes quality competition from three Class 3 schools: Cape Central, which took fourth in state last year, Jackson and Poplar Bluff, along with Class 2 power Cape Notre Dame.
"We played a lot of teams tough last year, teams that were better than us," said Long, "but I think we've taken some steps in the offseason and already this preseason to get closer to those teams. A team goal is to try to improve on our conference record."
Sikeston opens the season at the Notre Dame Tournament on Thursday against Carbondale, a third-place finisher in the 2003 Illinois state tournament.
"That's kind of a tough draw," said Long, "but everybody in it's pretty good, so…"