By Kyle Daubs

While Mahomet-Seymour looks to defend its title, keep an eye out for a sneaky, competitive Lincoln team. 

The Lincoln Railers return a huge chunk of players from a team that tied a school record for wins with a 14-6-2 overall record. Their 10-2-2 mark was tied with Mt. Zion for second and the team finished just one win behind Mahomet-Seymour, who was 11-1-2 in the Apollo. Lincoln beat the Bulldogs 1-0 at the end of the season to give Mahomet its lone conference loss. 

And that is why Mahomet-Seymour head coach Jeremy Davis sees a target on his team’s back. 

“I’d put them with Mt. Zion and Mattoon, possibly ahead of both,” said Davis. “They were extremely close to winning the title last year, beating us in what they and I thought would be the deciding match. They return a fantastic scorer in Slack, but will need to find a replacement for Beard to connect their midfield with one of the best strikers in the league.”

Garrett Slack returns to anchor the Lincoln offense after being named First-Team All-Apollo last year. Slack scored 33 goals and added five assists for a team that scored 79 goals as a team. Midfielders AJ Beard graduated and was the main architect of the team’s offense with 15 goals and 17 assists. 

However, the team returns two Second-Team selections in Ashton Bottles and senior goalkeeper Jaden Kopp. 

Mahomet-Seymour, meanwhile, lost first-team All-Apollo and All-State striker Eli Warren, who was involved in more than 70 goals last season. First-team selections Nate Lundstrom and Logan Woodward also graduated and will be “sorely missed.” The Bulldogs do bring back Second-Team goalkeeper Keagon Ashby and defender Koby Eisenmenger.

“I think we will be the favorites, but battling Mt. Zion and Mattoon for the title again,” said Davis. “They are always extremely tough on the road. Effingham and Charleston are both close behind though. Effingham has been building over the past few years and had the best sophomore in the conference last year.”

Mt. Zion figures to be in the conversation but lost three First-Team All-Apollo players from last year’s team in Derek Austin, Brock Kennell, and Jonathan Oliger, as well as Second-Team selection Logan Schumaker. 

Mattoon lost its leading scorer in Gavin Gonzalez, who scored 31 goals last year, but appears to have plenty of golf scorers. Jared Ruiz, Nathan Morgan and Karson Rice scored two goals apiece as Mattoon dominated Effingham for a 9-0 victory Saturday. The Green Wave, now 2-0, outshot Effingham 15-1. Andy Karpus, Ty Eastin and Trent Hettinger also scored for Mattoon.

Starting defenders Drew Coffey and Kaden Fultz also graduated for the Mattoon team that finished fourth in the conference with a 9-5 record. Both Gonzalez and Coffey were All-Apollo last year. 

“Trent Hettinger is a returning senior who was an all-conference second team last year,” said Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere. “I think we will be very competitive this season.  I think Mahomet is the favorite.  They continue to reload every year now. If we can find a couple of consistent goal scorers, we can be near the top.”

Rounding out the back of the conference is Effingham, Charleston, and Taylorville. Effingham brings back junior stud Osvaldo Angel. Effingham finished fifth with a 4-9-1 record, while Charleston lost leading scorer Blake Garrett from a 3-7-4 squad. Taylorville finished last in the conference with an 0-14 mark and no All-Apollo selections. 

“It’s hard for me to predict the season and the conference outcomes, but I understand Lincoln, Mahomet-Seymour, Mt. Zion, Effingham, and Mattoon are all tough opponents and will most likely be at the top,” said Charleston coach Zach Stranz. “My goal is to have Charleston mentioned as well. I never had a losing season playing for Charleston and I want to keep it that way. I believe we can do it.”