The defending NWC champions have been picked to finish second in a very tight 2011 pre-season coaches poll

The loss of six starters, including the team's three top scorers and the league's Defensive Player of the Year, have not kept Northwest Conference coaches from picking the Pacific men's soccer team to finish near the top of the league standings once again.

The defending NWC champions have been picked to finish second in a very tight 2011 pre-season coaches poll, which was released by the conference office last week. The Boxers received 40 of a potential 64 points in the poll and received three first-place votes by the league's eight coaches. For the first time, coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

'It's always a honor to be picked high by the conference coaches,' said men's soccer coach Jim Brazeau, who enters his 12th season as Pacific's head coach. 'With the losses that we had after our championship season, to be picked second sets a high bar for our returners. It shows the confidence in our abilities and depth that our opponents have.'

Voting shows that conference coaches expect the 2011 NWC men's soccer season to be a tight one, with only seven points separating first and fourth places. Pacific Lutheran was selected to take the conference title, gaining 43 points and two first-place votes. The Lutes return three First Team All-NWC selections, including Offensive Player of the Year Chad Kearns. The Lutes finished third in the conference in 2010, five points behind Pacific.

Whitman was picked third with 39 points and one first-place vote. Whitworth was fourth with 36 points, but also received two first-place votes.

The Boxers will have a lot of work to do to have a chance to defend their first NWC title since 1996. Pacific lost 11 players from the 2010 roster, including the team's top three scorers in midfielders Kizamu Tsutakawa (8 goals) and Jasem Jaihouni (5 goals) and forward Sean Mills (6 goals). The Boxers will also look to replace NWC Defensive Player of the Year Andrew Stevermer, who allowed just 14 goals at goalkeeper and amassed a 0.68 goals against average.

Nonetheless, Pacific returns a corps of 20 players who stand ready to step in and fill the holes. Midfielder Patrick Murray is the team's top returning scorer, netting four goals and two game-winners last year. Midfielder Jorge Mandujano, a Forest Grove High School product, also returns after having started all 20 matches in 2010. The Boxers also look to be steady in the defense with a duo of regular starters returning in Jack Wickward and Taylor Kane.

The 2010 Boxers finished with a 14-3-3 record and a 10-2-2 conference mark. They advanced to the first round of the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Tournament, losing at No. 1 ranked Trinity, 3-1.

Pacific's defense of the Northwest Conference begins at Lincoln Park Stadium next Thursday as the Boxers host Warner Pacific at 7:30 p.m. The Boxers will play their first six matches at home. They open NWC play on Saturday, Sept. 17 against Whitworth.

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