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story.lead_photo.caption Helias midfielder Luke Hynes goes for the ball during a Jamboree last week against Capital City at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

The Helias Crusaders soccer team has had their share of distractions for the last few months.

Of course, there's COVID-19 and making sure to follow all the safety protocols at practice. Then there's practice itself.

A new turf surface is being put down on the soccer field at the Crusader Athletic Complex, so the Crusaders have been practicing after the football team at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"We're out here late some nights, but the guys haven't let it get to them," Helias coach Jay Hebenheimer said as the Crusaders prepared for today's season opener at Sedalia Smith-Cotton. "They have responded really well, the attitude has been very good.

"We're excited to have a season."

Helias advanced to the Class 3 quarterfinals last season. With the Missouri State High School Activities Association's new "success factor," the Crusaders figure to be bumped up to Class 4 this season.

"We know it's a rebuilding year for us," Hebenheimer said. "But we compete against a lot of those schools anyway, so we'll be ready to do our best against them in the playoffs."

The Crusaders figure to be strong on the defensive end.

Connor Schaefer, a junior who played in the field last year as a defender, will start at goalkeeper.

"He is the No. 1 keeper in the state, in my opinion," Hebenheimer said.

Schaefer is ranked the No. 1 goalkeeper for the Olympic Development Team in a five-state region.

Logan Wilson and Sam Thompson will start at center backs. Jacob Schrimpf will start at left back, while Cole Brunnert will get the nod at right back. Trenton Wolken will serve as the main substitute in the back.

Luke Hynes and Sam Conley will be the attacking midfielders, while Alex Tesreau will be the holding midfielder, with Connor Mudd and Carter Pregner on the wings.

Brendan Callahan will start at forward.

"The back line will be fairly solid, the midfield looks pretty good and we're going to have some young guys up front," Hebenheimer said.

Hynes figures to be the focal point of the Helias attack.

"Luke was a great supporting player for last year, we have guys that will be a supporting player for him this year," Hebenheimer said. "Everybody is buying in and trying to do that."

Conditioning has not been a problem in the preseason.

It's a tight-knit group this season.

"There is very good team chemistry, may be the best we've had since I've been here," Hebenheimer said. "They support each other, they work well together, they want to help each other."

The Crusaders have just 26 players on the roster, with four of them currently sidelined with injuries. Helias will only play a half in JV games this fall.

"We're not going to have much of a JV," Hebenheimer said. "And we're not going to move varsity guys to the JV level just to get a full game.

"We've got some good numbers coming, so this shouldn't be a problem in the future."

Helias has already taken some schedule hits, losing games against St. Louis-area schools as well as two of three scheduled tournaments. The Crusaders are not allowed to have any overnight trips this season.

"We haven't tried to find anything yet to replace those games, I want to wait until we get into the season," Hebenheimer said.

Action will begin with the JV at 5 p.m. today, followed by the varsity contest around 6 p.m.

"I'm excited to get going, to start playing," Hebenheimer said. "And as long as everybody keeps doing what they're supposed to do, I'm confident we can get the season in."

Helias' first home game is Sept. 14 against Capital City.

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