The 16th-ranked Urbana University men’s soccer team will open the 2016 slate against local rival Ohio Dominican Thursday night in Columbus. The Blue Knights and Panthers will battle for the inaugural edition of the I-70 Cup with the winner taking home hardware.
It’ll be the fourth consecutive year for these two squads battling in a season opener. Last year’s bizarre match ended tied at 1-1 after play was halted and continued the next day due to a weather postponement. UU played behind 1-0 until the equalizer was scored in the 79th minute.
Then-ranked No. 19 ODU won the 2014 matchup 2-0 and the two squads tied 1-1 in 2013.
The Blue Knights, who were picked third in this year’s Mountain East Conference preseason poll, have their sights set on a league title after a historic run in 2015. UU finished 13-5-2 overall and advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals after picking up the first NCAA Tournament win in school history, a 1-0 road victory against Millersville.
Seniors Nathan Jones and Lewis Dunne, who were both named all-region last year, return along with All-MEC Honorable Mention honoree Ebenezer Agyeman. Jones is the program’s all-time leader in shutouts and Dunne tied for the team lead in goals last season with seven.
The trio headlines a list of 11 returners and 10 newcomers.
Ohio Dominican is coming off a down year after going 3-11-2 in 2015, but the Panthers have not dropped a season opener in nine years.
Leading goal-scorer Ryan Kasprzak (five goals in 2015) returns for the Panthers, along with six seniors on a 29-man roster.