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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento State men's soccer team hit the field for the first time Wednesday morning as it officially opened training for the 2013 season. The Hornets have 17 practice sessions and two exhibition games scheduled before their regular season opener on Aug. 30.

Entering their second season as a member of the Big West conference, the Hornets return just three starters from the 2012 squad. Seven of the eight starters lost were seniors, including the entire back line and starting goalkeeper, but head coach Mike Linenberger is very excited about the leadership returning and a strong incoming class.

"We're cautiously optimistic," Linenberger said. "We feel we have a very good recruiting class - perhaps our best ever - but we are young. We have some very exciting players that are fun to watch play and are very creative. We think it's going to be an exciting group."

Sacramento State's three returning starters are all seniors in 2013, including two players who were 2012 all-Big West selections. Forward Isaac Ikyurav and midfielder Gabe Silveira tied for the team lead with five goals apiece last season and led the team with 14 and 13 points, respectively, en route to all-conference honors. Midfielder Almog Strikowski started the first 11 games of the season in 2012, helping the Hornets open the season 6-4-1, before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Those three are among 11 returning letter winners from the 2012 team that went 8-8-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the Big West. The squad opened conference play with a 4-0-1 record but went 1-4-0 over the second half of Big West action and narrowly missed qualifying for the conference tournament. Though it was a disappointing end to the season the team showed it belonged in the Big West and are primed to further prove their worth this year.

"Last year was disappointing that we didn't get to the postseason, but for our first year in the Big West we thought we actually shocked a lot of people and played well," Linenberger said. "We were in first pace through the first half of the league but faltered a bit down the stretch; we didn't have enough depth to deal with injuries and yellow card suspensions towards the end of the year. Because we were so close and could taste the postseason tournament, I think it's a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and something to prove this year."

Linenberger, who enters his 25th season as Sacramento State's head men's soccer coach, figures to have a battle-tested team when his 2013 unit opens Big West play at home on Oct. 4. A tough preseason slate includes a match at No. 16 San Diego as well as tough road tests at Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary's, while the team will also host an exhibition match against PAC-12 power Stanford. The team should be well prepared to face a tough Big West schedule that includes matches against defending conference champion Cal State Northridge and two dates with UC Santa Barbara. Both of those conference foes received votes in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division-I Men's Preseason Poll, as did Stanford.

"We have a very good non-conference schedule," Linenberger said. "USD ended up going to the elite eight last year and we go down to their place which will be a difficult place to play. Loyola Marymount will also be a really tough team on that same trip and obviously the conference schedule speaks for itself. In the preseason we will be tested early and we'll find out what our strengths and weaknesses are right off the bat, which is what you want with a new group."

The squad has two home exhibition games scheduled, hosting Stanford Aug. 24 and Sonoma State Aug. 27, before opening the regular season at San Jose State on Aug. 30. The Hornets will then have three home matches followed by four road matches leading up to their conference opener against the 2012 Big West Champion Cal State Northridge Matadors on Oct. 4 in Sacramento.