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DAHLONEGA, GA – The 13th-ranked North Georgia women's Soccer team enters a three-game stretch to cap the regular season this weekend when they play host to Lander University in a Peach Belt Conference match-up.
The Lady Saints' 12-1 mark matches the best start in school history through 13 games, a record North Georgia established last year, ironically after a victory over Georgia Southwestern. The same holds true this year, as Chris Adams' squad scored a pair of late goals on Wednesday evening to run away from the Hurricanes and move to 7-1 on the year in Peach Belt Conference action.
The road to a Peach Belt regular season championship is starting to shrink for North Georgia, as just two conference games remain on the slate for the 2011 season. The Lady Saints turn their attention to Saturday's showdown with Lander, a team North Georgia is 2-4 all time against, including a 2-1 thriller on the road last year.
Lander University Bearcats Body of Work
Current Record: 12-2-1 (5-2-1 PBC)
Conference Rank: 3rd
Conference Prediction in 2011: 5th
Goal Differential in 2011: +24 (34-10)
Last Meeting (2010): North Georgia 2, Lander 1
Surprise Surprise – The Bearcats have been one of the pleasant surprises in the league this year, playing the best team in the conference down to the wire, and beating up on the teams they should take care of. Early in the year Lander was streaking, winning their first three games before falling in double overtime to 18th-ranked Armstrong Atlantic. Three more convincing shutout wins preceded a tie with Columbus State and the Bearcats appeared to be in the hunt for a championship. Their one slip up came at home to an under .500 club in the University of Montevallo, a loss that hurt them in the standings and will likely keep them from contending for the regular season title.
Hanging Around – While a tough loss at home to Montevallo thwarted the Bearcats' chances of claiming a regular season championship, Lander still sits in third place in the PBC standings and clear favorites to host a PBC Tournament game and make a push for the tourney title. Minus a slip up against the Falcons, Lander is 5-0 against the remaining teams at the bottom of the league, and have not allowed a goal in those games, outscoring the lower half 7-0 along the way.
Spreading the Wealth – Wednesday evening's game in the rain and cold forced North Georgia to play together to dispatch a feisty Hurricane club, using four different scorers in the game and assists from two different players to earn a 4-1 victory. Not only were the goals spread throughout the team, but they also came from unlikely sources, as Abby Trevino scored in just her second game of the year, and Melanie Thompson tallied her first score of the season, a goal that turned out to be the game-winner. Caroline Wallace's third goal of the year gave the Lady Saints some breathing room late, and Kelly Penston looked like her old self in the 88th minute with her sixth score of the season, but just her first goal in the last seven games.
Defensive Stand? – With possibly the two best defensive clubs in the league clashing on Saturday afternoon, goals could be hard to come by for both offenses. North Georgia has allowed a PBC best nine goals on the year, but Lander is not far behind, giving up just 10 goals on the season, and recording a league high 10 shutouts on the year, a mark that is also a program record with two games to play in the regular season.
Time for Players to Play – With goals likely at a minimum on Saturday, one key strike or one defensive miscue will likely decide the game. Lander has a balanced attack up top, using eight goals from Jamie Shaw and seven scores from Christina Barbour to pace one of the premier offensives in the league. Shaw's four game-winning goals is tied for the PBC lead with Emily Dover, her counterpart on Saturday and conference leader in goals with 12, points with 27 and goals per game at 0.92. You also can't forget about the speedy Kelly Penston, who finds her way into every play and seems to have a flare for the dramatics with three of her six goals counting as game-winners.
Unnoticed Statistic – While two of the best forwards on both teams will be looking to score a deciding goal this weekend, Christina Barbour and Kelsey Martin might be looking to find an open player instead. North Georgia's Martin and Lander's Barbour are tied for the league-lead in assists with seven, and could pass their team to a huge Peach Belt Conference win on Saturday. With these two teams as evenly matched as they come on paper, watch for an unsung hero to emerge with a simple cross in the box or pass to an open player.