The Oglethorpe men's soccer team returns this weekend as they look to defend their consecutive SAA regular season titles and take another shot at winning the conference tournament and earning their second-ever bid to the NCAA Championships. The Stormy Petrels come off a season in which they went undefeated (6-0-1) in SAA play, and have accrued an overall record of 17-9-6 over the past two seasons, including an 11-1-2 mark during that time in conference play.
"We've had a very talented team the last few years, and I think we do again this year," said Head Coach Jon Akin. "We've had some great success, but we're still hungry for more. I think we all feel like we've actually underachieved somewhat these past two years. Winning regular season championships is great, but we all feel like we've had an NCAA Tournament caliber team and have come up short in the SAA Tournament both years. That means we have something to prove still, so I know all of us are looking forward to getting back out on the field."
The Petrels have nine returning starters and 16 total returners from last year's squad, and will be bringing an exciting mix of newcomers into the fold, as well. They return seven All-SAA performers, including the conference offensive player of the year, for another shot at an SAA championship and NCAA tournament berth.
"We have a great base to start from with our nine returning starters," said Akin. "We look forward to integrating all the new faces and turning it into a cohesive unit. It's a group that's hungry to take the next step and go to the NCAA tournament!"
The non-conference schedule will be challenging, as it has been in each of the past several years. It should provide several exciting contests, though, and serve to get the Petrels ready for the rigors of SAA play. The Petrels start off with a pair of weekend classics at the season's outset. They'll head across town to Emory for the Sonny Carter Invitational over Labor Day weekend, where they'll go against Pacific Lutheran on Friday and North Carolina Wesleyan on Saturday. Both should be enticing opening matchups. Then, the Petrels will travel to St. Mary's City, Maryland, to take on St. Mary's and national power Salisbury at the Seahawk Classic Sept. 9 and 10.
After those two contests, Oglethorpe returns to campus for three straight, opening their home slate against Truett McConnell at the Oglethorpe Track and Field on Sept. 13. That weekend, they'll host preseason No. 19 Lynchburg for the second consecutive season, when they welcome the Hornets to campus on Sunday, Sept. 17.
The following weekend, the Petrels will welcome defending SAA Tournament champion Centre to the Oglethorpe Track and Field for both teams' SAA opener on Sept. 22. That contest will be followed by a neutral-site game with Roanoke in Pineville, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte; a home contest against national power Washington (Missouri) on Monday, Oct. 2, and SAA road games against Sewanee, Hendrix and Rhodes.
Starting on Oct. 13, the Petrels will be home at the Oglethorpe Track and Field for the remainder of the regular season. They'll take on Millsaps and Birmingham-Southern on Oct. 13 and 15, crosstown rival Emory on Oct. 18, in-state rival Berry on Oct. 20 (a game which will feature Senior Night festivities), and finish with non-conference opponent Georgia Gwinnett on Oct. 23.
The SAA Tournament will once again take place over two weekends, with the first round being hosted by the four top seeds on the weekend of Oct. 28 and the final four teams traveling to the highest remaining seed for the semifinals and final Nov. 3 and 5, respectively.
The Petrels have nine total home games this season, compared with just eight contests away from home. It should provide Oglethorpe fans with plenty of opportunity to see their team over the course of the season.
"We have one of the best game environments in the SAA," said Akin. "We draw great crowds, the environment is fun, and our fans enjoy watching us play. The great fan support always makes for a fun event, and our guys love that. Over the past couple of years, we've had to travel a lot to get competitive non-conference games, but we were able to get a good number of them at home this year, so for our fans to be be able to watch us play more will be exciting."
Akin is looking forward to getting started this weekend at Emory's Sonny Carter Invitational.
"Pacific Lutheran and North Carolina Wesleyan are both very strong teams, and they'll both provide good tests for us," said Akin. "But that's the case with virtually our entire schedule. We'll take it game by game and improve every day and see where the chips fall. Hopefully, we'll be playing our best soccer of the year when tournament time comes at the end of the season."