MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - Coming off a groundbreaking season, a 13-3-4 record and a trip to the NCAA National Tournament for the first time in program history, what does the Georgia College & State University women's soccer team and head coach Juan Pablo Favero do for an encore? Play one of the toughest schedules in the nation in an effort to prepare the Bobcats for national success.
The Bobcats cracked the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) National Top-25 for the first time in 2008 reaching as high as No. 19. Each one of the Bobcat matches count for in-region play this year, helping them bolster their all-important region ranking as they look to make it two-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. The slate features a whopping seven teams that played in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, and four from the NSCAA's Final National Rankings. In addition, they face off with the 2007 National Champions among 11 teams that have been in the National Tournament in the past two years.
"This team is ready for the challenge of this type of schedule," said Favero. "We've chosen to play these opponents to prepare the team for the level of talent in a national tournament. It's an important step toward the program's big goal."
The Bobcats return 16 letterwinners, including 14 that started in games for the Bobcats a year ago. Add in a talented class of eight newcomers, and the team is poised for another great run.
"Last year we had very little time to prepare for the season," he said. "This season, the team put in hard work in the spring and over the summer on their own, so as a coach, I'm excited to build off a full year of successful training."
The offense has also had a year to settle in, and the team has embraced Favero's more possession-based international style very well. The team's defense was its calling card in 2008, recording a mind-boggling 13 shutouts and allowing just 10 goals on the year. All of the defensive starters return, including a trio of All-Peach Belt Conference (PBC) performers.
"We'll need to build on that defensive success from last year," he added. "The defense will be much more tested so we can't overlook our defensive effort this season. We're going to have a lot more 1-0 and 2-1 matches this season than 5-0 or 6-1."
It's the tight contests that are the focus in this year's preseason. The reality is such that one-goal games will be more the norm this year, and those tight, tough games are often won by a few critical moments. The squad will need to be "mentally tough" to come out on top of those critical moments.
"Thankfully we're focusing on a shared responsibility to put the ball in the net this year. We have enough talent up front to expect the scoring to be taken care of. It's easier to defend a one-dimensional team, and that's just not us this year. Scoring can come from nearly anyone on the field."
When asked about the difficult schedule, Favero said "we could win more, we could lose more" but he's confident his squad will respond well and build on last season's success.
"The coaching staff noticed last year that the team played their best soccer against the tougher opponents," he said. "That a sign to us that we're ready for the next step. The experience and confidence gained from last year is key to the goal of winning National Championships. Every good result against a tough team gives us that much more to build upon."
2008 helped each member of this team develop a "belief in self and each other" so that the team can buy into the plan and have a confidence to accomplish great things, according to Favero.
"It's important to remember this is a new year," Favero added. "We have no obligation to compare ourselves to last season. This is a new group of players that have already begun to mesh well together to battle some tough teams. We've improved our talent and depth in many areas and are looking forward to the season."
The preseason training began for the Bobcats Monday, Aug. 10 with drills and fitness evaluations. The team will practice this week before inviting Division I Mercer University in for an exhibition match Sunday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. at Bobcat Field. Even the exhibitions aren't easy. Can't make it to the game? Follow the broadcast on GCSURadio.com or 88.9FM WGUR.
The GCSU Department of Athletics, winners of the 2008-09 PBC Commissioner's Cup, sponsors 10 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, GCSU prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement. Sign up at Twitter.com username GCSUSID for up-to-the-minute reports, and visit www.GCSUBobcats.com to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GCSU Athletics Hall of Fame.