Loyola opens the season Friday at Hutchinson.
EAST BOYS: The Cougars have two big holes to fill as all-state player Albert Podshivaylov and defender Nick Dahmann have graduated. Coach Jerrad Aspelund will look to find replacements from among the 60 student-athletes he has in grades 8-12.
East returns two of its top scorers from last year in sophomores Ben Schwartz and Brandon Sloniker. Nick Olson returns experience at the goalkeeper position. Senior Christian Eiden had figured to contribute as a center-midfielder, but he broke his fibula right before practice and is out for the season.
Defensively, the Cougars return two strong players in Josh Sloniker and Nathan Dreyer. Both are seniors.
Defending Big Nine champion Owatonna is the favorite to repeat in the conference. Rochester Century and Rochester Mayo should also be near the top.
"I'd like to think we can compete for a spot in the Top 4," Aspelund said. "We've been right up in that area almost every year, and there's no reason to believe we can't do it again."
In Section 2A, East and crosstown rival Mankato West figure to be the favorites. They were two of the strongest teams a year ago as East snuck past West in the section semifinals in a shootout and then beat Fairmont to earn a state tournament berth.
The Cougars open the season at 4:30 p.m. Thursday with a game against New Prague.