Expectations couldn't be higher this season for the UT Tyler soccer teams.
A year ago, the teams combined to lose five games, both won the American Southwest Conference regular-season championship and both advanced to the championship game of the ASC tournament - but both lost there.
The women advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, losing a heartbreaker in a penalty kick shootout to the No. 1 team in the country in the first round.
Both teams are hoping to take their seasons a step or more further this season.
The Patriots had arguably the best season in school history last year, going 17-1-2 overall and 9-0 in ASC play. They had 13 shutouts and were 17-0-1 before losing to Hardin-Simmons in the championship game of the ASC tournament.
With head coach Stefani Webb entering her 12th season at the helm, the Patriots have been steadily building a tradition of being one of the top two teams in the ASC and have their sight set on a third straight NCAA appearance and advancing on.
"The program was built on a great foundation," Webb said. "We have been able to, every year, just continue to gain traction. We play in a really hard conference, so first we have to manage that and get ourselves started out and then every year we have been able to build on that success."
The Patriots have been picked to finish a close second to Hardin-Simmons in the conference's preseason poll. The Patriots have played in the conference championship three of the last four seasons and enter this season ranked No. 22 nationally.
The team has some holes to fill, having lost All-Americans Morgan Monzingo and Chestley Strother to graduation. Strother signed with the Houston Dash of the National Women's Soccer League and made her debut with the team a couple of weeks ago.
"The fun thing about kids that graduate is it gives an opportunity for someone new to step up," Webb said. "I think that is why our team has been so successful is that every year we constantly have someone that wants to be in that position."
However the team returns a solid core, including three players on the ASC's watch list. Leading that trio is senior defenseman Shelby Valdepena, who was named the conference's preseason Defensive Player of the Year. She was a mainstay on a defense that allowed nine goals all last season (0.44 per game).
Also on the watch list are senior forward Brittany Matthews, who had seven goals and seven assists last season, and junior defenseman Caroline Williams.
"We return a great group that had a great run the last couple of years," Webb said. "We bring in 18 new freshman, so this preseason is going to be a little bit of an experiment, but I think the most exciting thing to me about this group is that every day, we get chance to have a great day.
"We are going to grow and learn every single day and we are going to be a different team at the end of the year than we were at the beginning and that is the exciting part for this group."
The Patriots open their season on Friday in Conway, Arkansas, against Hendrix College. Their first home game is Sept. 9 against Southwestern.
The men's team is also eyeing a second straight regular-season conference championship after going 7-0-1 in league play and 10-3-3 overall last year.
Just like the women, they have been picked to finish second in the conference preseason poll behind UT Dallas, who they lost to in a penalty kick shootout in the conference tournament last year.
"We should have a competitive team again this year," 15th-year head coach Kenny Jones said. "The biggest thing for us, obviously we want to continue our success on the field, but more importantly we want to continue our tradition of making sure we have the right people with the values we uphold in our program."
The men's team features three players on the ASC's watch list, including last year's ASC Midfielder of the Year Leandro Cid-Fernandez. A junior forward from Argentina, Fernandez was also an all-region selection after scoring nine goals and assisting on three others last season.
Also on the watch list are sophomore forward Lucas Pereira, last year's ASC Freshman of the Year, who scored five goals and assisted on one, and sophomore defenseman Chris Stamm, who was part of defense that allowed 0.88 goals per game last season.
"In terms of our upperclassmen and our returners, hopefully they will use all the experience they have to make a big impact not just on the field but help the underclassmen grow and become better athletes as well," Jones said.
The Patriots opened their season on Thursday with a 4-0 win over Texas A&M-Texarkana at home.