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story.lead_photo.caption Conner Mudd of Helias focuses on the field as he looks for an open teammate before making a throw-in during a game against North County last season in the Richard Wilson Invitational at the 179 Soccer Park. Photo by News Tribune / News Tribune.

The Helias Crusaders don't have a lot of seniors this soccer season.

But the ones they do have fill some key spots down the middle of the field.

"That really works out well," Helias coach Jay Hebenheimer said as the Crusaders prepare for tonight's season opener against the Sedalia Smith-Cotton Tigers at the Crusader Athletic Complex.

Connor Schaefer returns in goal for the Crusaders, with Logan Wilson starting at defensive midfielder and Sam Conley at attacking midfielder.

"They've been great leaders," Hebenheimer said. "They were pushing the guys during summer workouts, it's been impressive for those three.

"I need those guys to be teachers. We need them to be vocal leaders, that will be one of the most important aspects they bring to the team this year."

Schaefer appears poised for a big season in goal.

"Connor made a couple of huge saves in the Jamboree, saves you might not expect a keeper to make," Hebenheimer said. "I'm excited to see what the year brings for him.

"He's getting mentally stronger every year and I think he can be outstanding."

Wilson has grown heading into his final year with the Crusaders.

"From freshman to senior year, the change in him has been dramatic," Hebenheimer said. "He leads the team in a lot of our conditioning as well as being a vocal leader.

"If he stays where I need him to be and where the team needs him to be, he's going to be very dangerous this year."

Conley is being counted on to be a steady presence on the field.

"He's so composed, so calm, he's our level head out there," Hebenheimer said.

Conley also will be counted on to contribute on the offensive end.

"His shot from outside the box is going to be a good weapon for us," Hebenheiemer said.

Joining Schaefer in the back for the Crusaders are juniors Jonah Lanigan, Trent Wolken and Carter Prenger, along with sophomore Jaxon Meller.

Any concerns in the backline going into the season isn't the ability of the players, it's their size.

"We have a couple that are right around that 5-foot mark, so they are undersized when it comes to winning the ball in the air," Hebenheimer said. "But they are so strong in their positioning and their ability to take the ball away from bigger guys."

Wilson and Conley will be joined in the midfield by juniors Conner Mudd and Ryan Crane, and sophomore Nick Ammons.

Hebenheimer said Mudd and Conley are being counted on for their creativity.

"Conner is very focused, he's worked so hard and his conditioning is strong," Hebenheimer said.

Nick Dyro, a sophomore, has moved from the defensive end to the forward spot.

Hebenheimer is expecting big offensive seasons from Dyro, Mudd and Crane.

"I think each of them will score a minimum of 10 goals this season," he said. "And I think there are other guys who are going to score as well, we should be a very good offensive team.

"We're still a little sloppy in our buildup, but we're working on that and it will come."

Among the reserves are senior Nick Schaben and juniors Charlie Hinds and Brendan Callahan.

The Crusaders have a big freshman class that bodes well for the future. And perhaps this season.

"The depth will come a lot from freshmen," Hebenheimer said. "But I don't know how soon they will ready to go when it comes to helping us on the varsity level.

"The freshmen are working hard, it's just getting them installed in the program, doing what they need to do and the way we want them to do it."

Tonight's opener between Helias and Smith-Cotton is a Central Missouri Activities Conference contest. It's the first of three straight home games to start the season for the Crusaders, who will host Ozark on Thursday before taking on Rock Bridge in a conference contest Sept. 8.

"We like to use the first five games as a test, but we can't do that this season," Hebenheimer said. "We need to be ready to go right from the start."

Today's JV game will start at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity contest around 6:45 p.m.

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