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May 12—Repeating as champions is tough to do in any sport, at any level. Perhaps that’s why Eau Claire’s amateur soccer team, reigning champ Bateaux FC, was chosen to finish third in the Wisconsin Primary Amateur Soccer League by the circuit’s managers in their preseason poll.

Whatever the reasoning, the rest of the league has put a major chip on Bateaux’s shoulders.

“That’s the exact phrasing I used when I sent that to our group,” Bateaux head coach Josh Ranft said.

There’s a chip on their shoulders and a target on their back. The goal remains the same for Bateaux, which kicks off its 2021 slate on Sunday on the road against Lobos FC.

“I do want us to win the league,” Ranft said. “I don’t see why we can’t do it again this year. … We wouldn’t be doing ourselves a service if we didn’t believe we could do that this season.”

Repeating obviously won’t be easy, especially considering some of the departures from last year’s group. Chief among them is Josh Balsiger, last year’s leading scorer and league MVP. He’s now playing semi-professionally with Med City FC of the National Premier Soccer League. David Ripplinger, a team founder and another one of its top offensive talents last year, starts the year unrostered while dealing with an injury.

There remains plenty of talent, helped by an uptick in players trying out.

“There’s going to be a lot of added pressure for me to score goals,” striker Tye Kreutzfeldt said. “But I’ve been preparing for this, so I’m excited to go into the season and hopefully try to bring more goals to the team. But we also have some younger talent coming here from Eau Claire Memorial and also Noah (Helms) from Regis. Having all those young guys, we’re going to rely on them to kind of be our backbone a little bit when us older guys get tired out.”

There’s also added structure, with a full coaching staff now in place. Ripplinger served as a sort of player/coach at the start of last season, the team’s second overall and first since rebranding as Bateaux FC. Ranft, who got action as a player last year with the team, moved into more of an interim coaching role in the fall. Now he’s a full-time coach, joined by assistant Sarah Claas and goalie coach Chris Beckfield.

“We’re really excited that Josh came on as our manager, and Sarah has been really awesome too,” Kreutzfeldt said. “Having those two as kind of our leaders to kind of put the team together and to put the trainings together and everything, I think the team as a whole has benefited from them being in those positions and applying the structure to the team. It’s really exciting. They work really well together.”

Bateaux is scheduled to play five home games, kicking off on May 23 against Spartan FC. Rounding out the slate are St. Croix Valley on June 12, Barron Soccer Team on June 20, Lobos FC on July 11 and Poskin Jets FC on July 25. After playing home games at Regis last year, Ranft said the team is close to coming to an agreement to play at Bollinger Fields this season.

They’ll be tested right out of the gate with Lobos, the team picked to finish first by the league’s managers.

“It’s kind of like what you see during big sports competitions, they tend to put the two best teams together in that first match,” Ranft said. “We have to prove ourselves in this first match.”

Lobos bested Bateaux 6-3 in Merrill last season.

“Lobos is a very good team,” defender Sadith Osseni said. “It was a nice fight last season, so it’s going to be a difficult game.”

The WPASL returns with eight teams, with newcomers Poskin Jets FC and Spartan FC joining existing members Bateaux, Barron, FC Midnimo, Hayward Wolfpack FC, Lobos FC and St. Croix Valley SC. The geographic map stretches north to south from Hayward to Sparta and east to west from Merrill to St. Croix Falls.

The league has been split into two divisions this season, with Bateaux playing in the South alongside Lobos FC, Poskin Jets FC and Spartan FC. Unlike last season, when Bateaux claimed hardware thanks to finishing on top of the league table, the WPASL will pit the regular season champions from each division against each other for a championship game.

“We’re going to work even harder to prove the people wrong that picked other teams before us,” Kreutzfeldt said. “Show them why we’re here and why we were the champions last season.”