Back during Steve Simmons’ rookie season as men’s soccer coach in 2009, Oregon State put together a respectable run in the Pac-12 with a 5-4-1 record and runner-up finish in the standings.

Since, the Beavers have compiled a conference mark of 5-22-3.

Just how can OSU get over the hump and return to competitiveness in the Pac-12?

Sophomore Matt Bersano says “composure” is the key. Another sophomore, Mikhail Doholis, believes “heart” has a lot to do with the outcome. And junior Khiry Shelton said the Beavers just need “to compete.”

“Last year as you saw, we went 5-2-1 prior to Pac-12s and I don’t think we were as composed as we should’ve been,” Bersano said. “We had plenty of seniors and this year, we have plenty of seniors again. We have people who have been through it ... there shouldn’t be any fear. We know what’s coming and we know we should be on the upper edge this time.”

OSU’s 1-7-2 record in the Pac-12 translated into a last-place tie in the conference. But Simmons believes his club can turn around its fortunes and was actually better than at least three of those teams that finished higher in the standings last season.

Six of the seven losses in the conference were by a single goal.

“The whole idea is to go through the nonconference campaign building layers and making sure we’re winning the games we’re supposed to win so that we’re ready when we get to conference,” Simmons said.

OSU opens the season at 7 p.m. Friday at home vs. Cleveland State.

OSU heads into the season with five of its top seven scorers from last season gone from the roster.

“We’re taking a pretty good inventory of what we’ve got. We’ve got some returning players that will help close the gap on the stats and a couple new players that will help out with that as well,” Simmons said.

Doholis and Shelton are among the players that should contribute plenty of points this season. Emery Welshman, by far the top scorer last season, is now playing in the MLS.

“We have a lot of positives and working with (assistant coach) Dustin (Norman) has been good with the front four movement and scoring goals,” said Shelton, who is the top returning scorer from last year when he had four goals and two assists. “We’ll miss those guys from last year but gaining new players and new faces, it’s nice.”

Preseason drills cover all the bases but it’s natural for an emphasis to be placed on defense with other facets worked in.

“Lately we’ve been working on defending because defending’s going to get us goals and if we work from the back up, it’s going to help out a lot,” Shelton said.

Doholis, who scored in last week’s 6-0 exhibition victory over Northwest Nazarene, believes the Beavers can make plenty of noise when moving the ball around this season.

“We’re working on our defensive shape and how we go about working the ball on offense,” Doholis said about practice leading up to the season opener. “I think if we get our defensive shape right and then move forward on offense, we’ll be fine with any team we play in the country.”

Doholis scored an easy goal in the exhibition from six yards out in the 61st minute on a setup from Shelton that left him wide open for the shot.

“We displayed that we can score from a lot of different people today,” Doholis said. “I got on the board, a few others got on the board and I think we can fill the roles of the people who left.”

Daniel Van Vleet scored two goals in the exhibition, Brenden Anderson and Josh Smith had headers into the net and Will Seymore scored on a free kick from 24 yards in the 120-minute workout.

“I think today was a good way of showing how exactly composed we are, how together we are compared to prior years,” Bersno said after the exhibition. “I think it’s a good illustration of what winter was, winter and spring ... and you’ve always got to play someone else who isn’t wearing the orange and black to get a full grasp of that.”

Bersano led the Pac-12 last season in three goalkeeping categories, includeing a .782 save percentage. He also had four shutouts and a 1.17 goals-against average.

“We want to be the best team on defense, but we don’t want to be on defense all the time so I think it’s been a pretty even split about what our focus is on,” Bersano said about the preseason.

The Beavers will work through a nine-game nonconference schedule — seven at home along with a trip to Michigan in September. The Pac-12 slate kicks off in early October in challenging fashion with three straight road games at Cal, Stanford and Washington.

On the flip side, OSU gets those same three schools at home to finish the regular season.

“It just comes down to heart and if you have the will to win,” Doholis said about Pac-12 play. “You can have all the talent in the world but if you out-motivate the other team, you’ll get the W.”

Shelton is one of those players who has been through the grind.

“Just compete, I think that’s what we struggled with last year,” he said, “just competing and always wanting to win at home and away.”

Brad Fuqua is a sports copy editor and sports writer at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached via email at brad.fuqua@lee.net.

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