After making a run to the WIAA Boys Soccer State Tournament last season, the Northland Pines Eagles have high expectations for the 2020 season.

The Eagles, coached by Mark Pinski and assistant coach Rod Sternhagen, finished 15-4-6 last season and had several impressive accomplishments, including Great Northern Conference (GNC)co-champions, Regional champions, Sectional champions and then qualified for the State tournament as the No. 3 seed.

At State, the Eagles lost to Sturgeon Bay 5-1 in the semifinal at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee.

But the Eagles lost several key players from that 2019 squad due to graduation, including all-conference players Liam Oas, Brady Snedden, Bjorn Lubke, goalie Brett Wilkins and Alex Sternhagen. Oas was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year in the GNC, leading the conference with 26 points on 10 goals (first in GNC) and five assists. Snedden scored 14 points on five goals and four assists. Wilkins, Sternhagen and Luebke were part of a defense that allowed just six goals in GNC games. 

The Eagles do have nine returning letter winners to provide leadership this season, including seniors Colby Kruse and Jason Ritter; juniors Mason Hogenmiller Owen Uebe, Drew Christenson, Connor Feckett, Braxtin Bell and Patrick Roth; and sophomore Ryan Muench

Kruse, who was named conference Defensive Player of the Year, led the GNC with a save percentage of 0.926 and goals-against average of 0.52.

 “As goalie, Kolby Kruse led the best defense in the conference last year,” said  Pinski. “He was named captain this year.”

Ritter, a veteran defender, is the other captain.

“Jason is a great leader on the defensive end of the field,” said Pinski.

Hogenmiller, who was a second-team all-conference selection last year, will be looked to put the ball in the net. He had 12 points on three goals and six assists (second in conference) in 2019.

“Mason is skilled with the ball and has an ability to score,” said Pinski.

Pinski will also look to Uebe and Muench to provide some scoring punch.

“Owen is a good offensive threat and Ryan is an excellent all around player with great speed,” said Pinski.

After a week of practice, which didn’t start until Sept. 7 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pin-ski said the Eagles are making good progress.

“We have great team unity this year and excellent practice habits. We have a very eager group of boys and they are really looking to prove themselves,” said the coach. “The atmosphere is really positive and there’s lots of good energy. I think this team has a ton of potential.”

Pinski said he expects some younger players to develop during the season.

“Several of the boys lack varsity playing experience, but I don’t think that’s going to hold them back,” he said. “They are eager to improve and prove themselves.”

Last year, the Eagles were 6-0-2 in the GNC and tied Medford for the title, as the Raiders finished 7-1-2.

“We hope to challenge for the conference championship just like we do every year,” said Pinski, who was named GNC?Coach of the year in 2019. “This team has the potential to do it.”

The Eagles were scheduled to open the season on Tuesday of this week at Medford and will host Mosinee this Thursday, Sept. 17, at 4:30 p.m. on Senior Night. The Eagles will then travel to Rhinelander next Tuesday, Sept. 22, for a 7:30 p.m. contest against the rival Hodags.