After a desperately disappointing end to the 2014 season, the Clayton State Lakers’ women soccer team are looking to mend the heartbreak of narrowly missing out on a bid to nationals. A point deduction towards the end of the season led to the Lakers’ decline from national rankings to missing out on the NCAA tournament. The team are geared to heal their wounds from 2014 in one way: victory. With just a week until official preseason begins for the Peach Belt side, we take a look at the notoriously strong conference and how the Lakers intend to conquer it.
Strong Senior Presence
Despite losing three seniors and regular game changers in Melissa Hetherington, Emily Walling and Lois Edvardsson, the upcoming season’s roster is notably strong; they have a combination of nine returning seniors, a strong junior presence and several new additions. Returners include PBC Second Team and Daktronics All-Southeast Region First-Team selection, Maria Marti Bartis, Lucy Cunningham (Daktronics All-Southeast Region Second-Team) and captain Charlotte McCormack (PBC Second Team). The Lakers will be led by 2013 PBC Coach of the Year, Gareth O’Sullivan, returning for his fifth year at Clayton State; he will be hoping to continue his consecutive winning seasons since arriving in Morrow, GA. in 2011. Everyone associated with the Clayton State Lakers know that this is a season to make count.
While the Lakers can be confident in their ability, it will undoubtedly be a tough challenge this season. The Peach Belt Conference features numerous strong teams. On any given day, any team can beat anyone, as proved by last season’s unpredictable results. The Lakers’ season schedule
is notably challenging, featuring five NCAA tournament opponents, in addition to their traditional, exhibition match up with local Division I school Kennesaw State. Plenty of teams are coming off winning 2014 seasons, including UNC Pembroke (11-5-3), Lander (8-3-4) and Armstrong (13-5-0). The Armstrong Pirates will be particularly strong after reaching the NCAA tournament last year.
This season will be considered a traveling season for the Lakers; just 7 of 17 games are being played on home territory. This obviously creates a tougher season, with extended trips to Tennessee, Florida and the Carolinas over short periods of time. Although traveling away is always more draining, the Lakers will be determined to remain professional and concentrated; they will be prepared to upset home crowds in order to succeed.
Clayton State will also be pleased to see that their arguably toughest games, against North Georgia and Columbus State, will be played in front of a home support at Laker Field. The Lakers will be looking for revenge after a disappointing defeat to the North Georgia. The Night Hawks will pose a notable threat, after reaching the NCAA Second Round last season.
Columbus State will also be a difficult game, as they defend their championship title. The Cougars claimed the 2014 Peach Belt Conference, after a point deduction hindered any chance of victory for the Lakers; Columbus went on to reach the NCAA National Quaterfinals. Although the PBC holds many other strong teams, the Lakers will feel that, if they can win both these games, they have a good chance of being PBC Champions for the second time in three years.
So what do Laker players think of the upcoming season? Senior and team captain, Charlotte McCormack believes that the toughest challenge for the Lakers will be their smaller sized squad. She stated that, “it’ll be difficult to keep everyone healthy with our small squad.” The Lakers may have less depth than many teams in the conference, however, what they lack in depth they make up for in spirit, endeavor and commitment. McCormack maintains confidence in her side as the season approaches. She emphasizes the importance of the nine motivated seniors in her squad, emphasizing that “we have a strong retuning squad combined with promising incoming talent. We are all determined as a team to continue where we left off last season and to go one step further. We will go out with a bang!”
The Lakers begin their competitive season September 3rd in Tennessee against Union. Peach Belt Conference competition will start on September 19th as they travel to St. Augustine, Florida to face Flagler.