McKendree University men’s soccer coach John VanBuskirk heads into his third season at the helm of the Bearcats looking for a little more focus and a lot more luck this fall.
McKendree finished 5-10-2 — including a horrendous 1-7 at home — a year ago, but still barely missed qualifying for the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament.
The reason is simple.
In 2014, McKendree lost eight games by one goal, including a 1-0 setback to national power the University of Indianapolis.
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But with eight starters returning, McKendree is hoping to turn those losses around, beginning Sunday when it opens its season at Oakland City University in Indiana.
“That was one of the games that got away,” Vanbuskirk said. “We’re playing at home and we’re up 4-1. They score three goals in 20 minutes then beat us 5-4 in overtime.
“That shouldn’t happen anytime, but especially when you are playing at home. It’s just a matter of focusing, staying in the game for a full 90 minutes and we had trouble doing that last year.”
The Bearcats defense looks solid with seniors Jan Peters and Jordan Pratte back to lead the way.
Pratte started all 17 games a year ago, while Peters started all 17 two years ago before sitting out last season with an injury.
David Cole of O’Fallon and former Althoff standout Vijay Brahmbhatt should also help out the Bearcats defense after helping Belhaven University to two straight NAIA Tournament appearances.
Brahmbhatt played nine games for the Bearcats as a freshman three years ago.
Senior Scott Armstead returns as the Bearcats goalie. Armstead gave up 16 goals in 16 games a year ago with four shutouts.
“We didn’t think we were going to have him (Armstead) this season,” Vanbuskirk said. “He was going to be on the New Zealand Natonal Team, but they (New Zealand) did not qualify for the Olympic Games. He’s a big, agile player in goal for us. We’re glad he’s back.”
The Bearcats return three of their top four offensive players in Felipe Thompson (4 goals), Connor Cassidy (2 goals, 4 assists) and Callum Kiddell (3 goals, 1 assist).
The Bearcats were picked 12th in the 16-team GLVC preseason poll.
Water polo added as newest sport
Director of Athletics Chuck Brueggemann announced this week that men’s and women’s water polo will become the newest sports programs to be offered by the university.
The Bearcats’ water polo teams add to an already impressive list of new and existing sports that will be prime tenants at the new McKendree Metro Rec Plex that will be constructed in O’Fallon.
Earlier this summer, McKendree introduced new sports offerings for women’s hockey along with men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
All of the new programs will join the existing Bearcats’ men’s hockey team to be housed at the McKendree Metro Rec Plex. The state-of-the-art complex will contain a full aquatic center for water sports, as well as two National Hockey League-size sheets of ice, a fitness and training area along with other amenities.
“We are proud to introduce another new sport to McKendree University that is gaining in popularity in our region,” said Brueggemann. “The emergence of high school and club programs in the St. Louis area has made people take notice of its popularity.
“It was a natural choice for us to introduce water polo given not only the growth of the sport, but the first-class facility in the McKendree Metro Rec Plex that will house our new sports.”
Brueggemann also announced Monday that Gregg Emde has been hired to coach the new McKendree water polo teams.
Emde joins the McKendree family after holding the same position at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Allen named new tennis coach
Raquel Allen has been men’s and women’s tennis coach and replaces former coach Adam Reeb, who accepted a head coaching position at Seattle University in Washington in July after leading the Bearcats for two seasons.
Allen joins the program after serving as the women’s tennis coach at NCAA Division I Western Illinois University last season. The Leathernecks qualified for The Summit League Championships in her only season leading the program, and had one player earn all-league honors by the conference at the end of the season.
“We’re very excited to have Raquel join the McKendree family,” said Brueggemann. “She had a very successful career as a NCAA Division I student-athlete, and she has carried that competitive drive and spirit into her coaching career.
“The administration at Western Illinois University, while disappointed with her departure, spoke very highly of her character and ability. Raquel was recognized early in her coaching career as a young coach with a bright future, and we’re very happy that she will be leading our program.”
Bearcats on TV
The McKendree University men’s basketball will have its Dec. 5 game at Bellarmine University air live on ESPN3. This will be the first national television exposure for the Bearcats’ program since McKendree completed its transition to NCAA Division II in 2013.
The Great Lakes Valley Conference contest between the Bearcats and the Knights will tip off at 3:15 pm ET on Dec. 5.
Harriers to open Saturday
The McKendree men’s and women’s cross country teams will open their 2015 seasons Saturday in St. Louis at the Gabby Reuveni Early Bird Meet.
The event, which is being hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, will feature the women’s race at 8 a.m., followed by the men’s race at 8:30 a.m.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.