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DAHLONEGA, GA - The North Georgia men's soccer team looks to bounce back from a loss on Sunday as they host the University of Tampa on Wednesday before traveling to USC Aiken for their first conference game of the season.
The Saints have another tough contest come Wednesday, welcoming in 22nd-ranked Tampa from the Sunshine State Conference. This will be the third game against an SSC team for the Saints this season, who are currently 0-1-1. North Georgia then travels to South Carolina to play USC Aiken in their first PBC match of the year.
#22 University of Tampa Spartans
2010 Record: 14-7-1 (4-3-1 SSC; 3rd in conference)
Conference Prediction in 2011: 2nd
Goal Differential Last Season: +27
What's Good? After having their opening game against Division I in-state foe Jacksonville was canceled due to inclement weather, the Spartans are rearing to get the high-expectation season started. Goalkeeper David Niepel returns after starting 21 of 22 games for Tampa. Niepel is entering just his sophomore season, so the Spartans have a rock to rely on in goal for years to come. NSCAA First-Team All-South Region senior Ryan Griffin returns after scoring seven goals for the Spartans, five of which turned out to be game-winners. All-SSC First-Team defender Brian Fekete returns in the backfield for Tampa, a familiar face to the Saints. Fekete scored the game-winning goal last year against North Georgia.
The Spartans should be right in the thick of things come the seasons end. After being put out in the NCAA Tournament last season by Barry University, the Spartans are hungry and should make another strong push and NCAA appearance.
What's Bad? – Playing in the stacked Sunshine State Conference doesn't help, but it also prepares you by playing some of the best teams in the nation. The top two scorers off last year's SSC Tournament Championship team have left thanks to graduation. Lister Warren and Kemal Malcolm combined for 18 goals, 11 assists, 2 game-winners and over 3000 minutes together. The Spartans also caught a bad draw in the scheduling having to play 2nd-ranked Rollins College on the road to open the conference season.
How the Saints Match-up – Avenging last season's loss to Tampa, 2-0 in Florida, is on Pat Parris' wish list. Rade Tanaskovic was absent in the late-season non-conference tilt for the Saints, due to injury; that's not the case this year. The Saints have home field advantage on Wednesday night, something they didn't have last year against Tampa. This will be the first game for Tampa this season and the third for the Saints. The match will be a tough one for the Saints, but redemption could be real sweet.
University of South Carolina Aiken Pacers
Current Record: 1-2
2010 Record: (2-11-2; 1-6-1 PBC, 8th in conference)
Conference Prediction in 2011: 8th
Starters Lost/Returning: 2/9
Goal Differential This Season/Last Season: -7/-22
What's Good? All-PBC defender Brett Van Pelt returns for his junior season in the backfield for the Pacers, along with nine other starters. Aiken will also get the play of Troy Watson back after he suffered a season-ending injury last season. Watson was All-PBC two years ago as he scored seven goals for the Pacers.
What's Bad? Those returning starters only won one game in the PBC last season and two overall.
What's Good? By playing in the Peach Belt, the Pacers have one of the toughest conferences to contend with year in and year out. So at least they have a valid excuse for the three conference wins the past two seasons.
What's Bad? The Pacers started off the season right before quickly getting dismantled in back-to-back games by Anderson and Palm Beach Atlantic, falling by a combined score of 10-0.
How the Saints Match-up – North Georgia squeezed out a 1-0 victory last season against the Pacers and hope to do the same again. In doing so, the Saints will give themselves a good start to the conference season. Two years ago, Aiken got the best of North Georgia winning 1-0. Both match-ups have been decided by one goal the past two seasons. It looks as though all it takes is one goal to separate these two teams, first come first serve on Saturday in South Carolina.