QUINCY -- The Quincy University men's soccer players had to accept a harsh reality when the Great Lakes Valley Conference preseason coaches poll was released.
The Hawks were picked ninth.
"Fair enough," junior midfielder Cooper Reis said. "We were going through the teams above us, and they all did better than us last year."
That doesn't mean it sits well.
The Hawks believe they were better than their 6-10 record and 5-9 conference mark indicated, and with a number of offseason changes taking place, they are intent on flipping things around.
"I'm hoping it angers the other guys as much as it does myself," Reis said. "We intend to finish a lot better than that if all goes well."
The fact that team chemistry is better is a solid starting point.
"We've shown a real good bond," sophomore midfielder Simon Chretien said. "There will be times throughout the season we're going to be tested, and we have to show character and leadership."
A lack of that contributed to last season's setback.
"Nobody stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we've had enough of this,'" Reis said. "It just kept going on. With the guys we have now, especially our leaders, if we were to lose a couple games, we have the right guys to step up and end that for us."
The Hawks have a backbone of experience in the middle of the field.
Junior forward Justin Armfield will run as the center striker with the Reis cousins -- Cooper and sophomore Aubrey, the top returning scorer with three goals last season -- patrolling the midfield. Quincy High School product Ben Mero and senior Scott Prsha are the anchors at center back.
"Aubrey and Justin saw their minutes go up substantially last season, but they are both really smart kids, and they really paid attention to what we need to do tactically," QU coach Mike Carpenter said. "They make very smart movements, the type of movements we're trying to coach."
The Hawks lost five full-time starters from a team that had 14 players start five or more games. To fill voids, Eddie Plesha, a two-year starter at forward with 10 career goals, has been moved to a defensive wing along with Cole Hayes, a redshirt freshman from Quincy Notre Dame.
At the same time, they reloaded up front through recruiting.
Kingsford Adjei, a freshman striker from Ghana, and Eduardo Vivanco, a freshman wing attacker from Ecuador, have the ability to beat defenders 1-on-1.
Suddenly a team that scored just 13 goals last season -- the second fewest in the GLVC -- appears more dynamic.
"Nobody's slow," Carpenter said. "We want to push the tempo. We want to be on the front foot where the opposition is always having to deal with our quickness and our pace. We want to find ways to be able to connect with our front three behind the opposing backs.
"Even if early in the game the opposition finds ways to deal with it, you have to keep going to that well because nobody wants to defend that way, and eventually it will pay off if you're suited for it -- and we are. We have it, so we have to exploit it."
It's also forced the defense to improve throughout the preseason.
"Each practice is a grind and a dogfight," Prsha said. "We're hoping we push each other enough that when we get to the games that maybe because we've pushed each other so much, the games feel a little lighter."
Overcoming last year's debacle is going to take that kind of work ethic.
"We were more talented and more capable than how we performed," Carpenter said. "We completely underachieved, and that's unacceptable. The group has learned from last year's mistakes.
"That's something that is tough to coach or teach until actually you experience that. They are very focused on making sure we don't go down than wrong path again."
QU at a glance
Coach: Mike Carpenter (78-31-13 at QU, seventh season).
2017 record: 6-10 (5-9 Great Lakes Valley Conference).
Returning starters: MF Cooper Reis, Jr.; MF Aubrey Reis, Soph.; D Ben Mero, Jr.; D Scott Prsha, Sr.; D Alec Roussin, Jr.; D/MF Tony Christante, Jr.; F/D Eddie Plesha, Sr.
Other returning letterwinners: F Justin Armfield, Jr.; F Ty Rogers, Jr.; MF Simon Chretien, Soph.; D Kyle Fraser, Sr.
New faces: GK Adam Whybrow, Jr.; F Eduardo Vivanco, Fr.; F Kingsford Adjei, Fr.; F Macker Little, Fr.; F Hayden Tucker, Fr.; D Cole Hayes, Fr.
Key losses: GK Nate Griffin, D Connor Sendobry, D Michael Timmerman, MF Chris McArthur, MF John Conley.
Schedule: Aug. 30 vs. Northeastern State in Springfield, Mo., 7 p.m.; Sept. 2 vs. Wisconsin-Parkside, 1:30 p.m.; Sept. 6 vs. Purdue Northwest, 2 p.m.; Sept. 9 at Northern Michigan, noon; Sept. 14 at Rockhurst, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 16 vs. Missouri S&T, 2:30 p.m.; Sept. 21 vs. Lewis, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 23 vs. Truman State, 2:30 p.m.; Sept. 28 at Bellarmine, 6:30 p.m.; Sept. 30 at Indianapolis, 1:30 p.m.; Oct. 5 vs. Southern Indiana, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 7 vs. McKendree, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 9 at Lindenwood, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 at William Jewell, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 14 at Drury, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 19 vs. Maryville, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 21 at Missouri-St. Louis, 2:30 p.m.; Oct. 24 at Illinois-Springfield, 5 p.m.