Coach: Craig Lee, 6th year (5-year record 38-55-14)
Returning starters: Sr. - Ryan Flynn, Jack Henry, Noah Masemore, Blake Sedbrook, Brian Jome, Djibril Thiam.
Storyline: Ryan Flynn had a team-high 10 goals and five assists last year while Jibril Thiam chipped in four goals. Brian Jome returns in goal. Jack Henry is back to lead the defense.
"Noah Masemore is a nice player," adds Lee. "He's creative. He's a good passer so he's somebody who can kind of be an engine for us."
Candidates to join the starting lineup include defenders Erik Jones and Connor Jackson, forward-midfielder Jose Alvardo and forward Daniel Vega. "It's really going to be a matter of how quickly those players can fit into the system," said Lee, whose team opened with a 5-0 win over Pekin on Monday. "So far, they look good. I am optimistic."
Lee tabs Normal West as the Intercity and Big 12 favorite.
Coach: Scott Ice, 1st year
Players: Sr. - Bryant Sturgill, Kelvin Kwan; Jr. - Ryan Roberts, Matthew Ice, Leo Doson; So. - Hunter Goodwin, Isaac Orns, Luke Seiler, Don Hui Kim; Fr. - Damion Sniff, Chayton Gearhart, Jeb Bender, Isaac Goodwin, Alex Cox.
Storyline: A three-time NCAA Division III All-American at Maranatha, Ice replaces Tim Abney. Ice has more than 17 years of high school coaching experience. Bryant Sturgill, who stands 6-foot-4, led last year's team with nine goals. "Bryant has an extremely hard shot," Ice said. "With that, he's got good accuracy."
Sturgill and Hunter Goodwin make the middle of the field a team strength. Freshman Jeb Bender will start in goal, replacing Ryan Roberts, who will move to forward.
"Our (five) freshmen bring in a lot of athleticism ... something I can work with," Ice said. "I would say our projection for this year is a lot more positive than it was last year."
Coach: Reza Ghasemi, 3rd year (2-year record 10-28-3)
Returning starters: Sr. - Noah Bevilacqua, Daniel Broadbear, J.C. Micklich, Joey McGraw, Ryan Thomas; Jr. - Tommy Wilder, Justin Schade, Ryne Schade, Kyle Vroman.
Storyline: Noah Bevilacqua scored a team-high 16 goals last season. "This year, we have more experience as a whole," said Ghasemi, who welcomed six promising freshmen including Wayatt Holloway. "They have pretty good skills and good speed."
Another newcomer to watch is German exchange student Fabian Krause, a junior defender. Ghasemi envisions sophomore Mael Kazigwa providing scoring punch."I think our team strength this year is definitely our overall speed."
The returning goalie is J.C. Micklich. The Saints, who went 4-3-3 in a Peoria summer league, trained on their own two hours a day, five days a week the past two months. "They have really worked hard in the offseason," said Ghasemi, noting the newly formed Illini Prairie Conference will give his team, for the first time, a league title to chase.
Coach: Jeremy Knapp, 7th year (6-year record 50-58-8)
Returning starters: Sr. - Clay Damkoehler, Ben Streutker, Paul McBride, James McBride, Christiaan Noyes; Jr. - Moses Kabuswe, Nathaniel Phinney; So. - Brian Matipa.
Storyline: Moses Kabuswe scored an Intercity leading 46 goals last year to lift his career total to 63. He also dished 17 assists as the Cyclones placed fourth in the state tournament. James McBride handed out 12 assists. Paul McBride, who chipped in 42 goals and 17 assists, is nursing an Achilles' tendon injury and may not return.
"Like any coach at this point in the season, I'm cautiously optimistic," said Knapp, whose high-scoring squad won't be overlooked by opponents as it once was. "We've increased the strength of our schedule (with games against Normal West and Elgin St. Edward among others). We saw kids put in a lot more commitment and work this summer."
Goalkeeper candidates include Isaac Garey and Sam Walker. "We've got to defend if we're going to beat good teams," Knapp said.
Coach: Matt Chapman, 3rd year (2-year record 28-13-7)
Returning starters: Sr. - Josef Halcomb, Austin Woodside, Brady Fletcher, Griffin Bruso, Carson Oltman; Jr. - Kamoy Creary, Ethan Holland; So. - Michael Reibling.
Storyline: All-state striker/midfielder Josef Halcomb, a two-time team MVP, had 24 goals and seven assists last year en route to Pantagraph Area Player of the Year honors. "We're excited about what he's going to bring to the table," said Chapman, whose team shared the 2016 Intercity Tournament title with U High.
All-Big 12 star Griffin Bruso provided six goals and 11 assists last year while Michael Reibling chipped in five goals and nine assists. As freshmen, the team's 10 seniors were part of a state runner-up program.
"These guys really want to leave their mark," said Chapman, whose returning goalie is Austin Woodside. "We have what we feel is a very experienced back line. We all felt we gave up too many goals last year."
Chapman also has high hopes for Josue Nsukami, Nick Leming and Jared Nutt.
Coach: Val Walker, 12th year (11-year record 127-93-31)
Returning starters: Sr. - Matt Lage, McCade Brown, Ryan Weber; Jr. - Jordan Walker, Parker Theobald, Clayton Davis, Coltin Anderson, Delphy Sabu.
Storyline: Going 5-0 in an Iowa summer tournament showed Walker his team has a lot of potential. "We always improve over time," he notes. "I think we're starting at a good place this year."
Jordan Walker, the coach's son, scored a school-record 32 goals to go with 10 assists last year while Parker Theobald chipped in 21 goals and a school-record 17 assists. As Jordan Walker and Theobald draw defenders, look for Clayton Davis and Archimed Sabu to light up opposing goalies.
Coach Walker rates Matt Lage among the Intercity's best defenders. The Wildcats' top goalies are McCade Brown and Ethan Stroyan, both college prospects.
"I think we are strong all over the place," said Walker, who also has high hopes for Alec McGinnis, Zach Bergeron and Adam Conrad.
Coach: Jeremy Stanton, 11th year (10-year record 147-64-26)
Returning starters: Sr. - Christian Lopez, Jett Jenkins, Matthew Mier; Jr. - Nathan Clay, J.D. Kelley, Cayden Redd, Mason Wittman; So. - Camden Brown.
Storyline: After two years in Class 1A, the 2016 state champion Pioneers return to 2A. "We're very familiar with 2A and compete well there," said Stanton, whose team shared the Intercity Tournament title last year with NCHS. "I think it's going to be a great Intercity Tournament. If I had to pick a team that is probably favored, I would say West."
Nate Clay scored a team-leading 30 goals last year while J.D. Kelley chipped in 15 and Cayden Redd 14. U High's only returning back-line defender is Matthew Mier. Four-year starter Christian Lopez returns in goal.
"We're anticipating a lot of success this year," Stanton said. "Defense is an area of concern for us right now. If we can figure that out, I think we'll be in great shape for an awesome season."