The Oglethorpe women's soccer team returns this week with a new focus as they look to make their way up the SAA standings. Several key players are back from last season's squad, and Head Coach Wes Anania is ready to start the new season.
"Integrating all the new players we have has been exciting. but challenging at the same time," he said. "I think we have a much deeper team this year. Last year, we were pretty thin in some spots. But we've got lots of options this year. I'm excited about freshman class and transfers. They should help us fill some gaps."
Oglethorpe will return 14 players from the 2016 squad, which went 2-12. Those two wins included a road victory over SAA foe Millsaps, though, and the team was competitive in several of the contests they dropped, including a midseason battle against SAA power Sewanee. Having a year of experience under their belts should provide the Petrels with the chance for a great deal of improvement this season.
"All of our goalkeepers have looked pretty good," said Anania, "and that competition is wide open. We're tweaking our back line, but I think we have lots of good defensive options at our disposal."
"Our midfield should be very strong, perhaps one of the best in the conference," Anania continued. "And our attack has a couple of senior forwards with some freshmen mixed in, as well. It should be very well-rounded."
The schedule is an interesting one for the Stormy Petrels, featuring a mix of Division III and NAIA opponents in the non-conference schedule. The team will open the season against Agnes Scott Friday at 7 p.m. It's a game that the Petrels lost on the road last season, and should offer an interesting test. It'll serve as the first home contest of the 2017-18 academic year for any Oglethorpe team, and should provide an outstanding crowd at the Oglethorpe Track and Field. That game will also serve as Youth Sports Day, with all youth soccer players earning free entry into the game when they wear their jersey.
"It should be exciting," said Anania. "It'll be good to start things out under the lights. We lost at Agnes Scott last year, so this should be a good early barometer of where we stand. Lots of local youth clubs have their players coming out, so it should be a fun event."
That game will lead nicely into Oglethorpe's Sept. 6 home game against Wesleyan, another in-state Division III opponent. The non-conference schedule continues with the Petrels' first road trip of the season, when they'll travel to Dayton, Tennessee, to take on Bryan on Sept. 8. They'll return home to take on Division III Huntingdon on Sept. 13 before traveling up to Lookout Mountain to go against Covenant later that week.
The Petrels will then host national power and preseason No. 18 Centre in their SAA opener on Sept. 23. Oglethorpe will return to non-conference play after that with home games against Oakwood and Piedmont, and a road tilt against Brenau, before re-entering SAA play in earnest against Sewanee on Sept. 30 in Tennessee. Oglethorpe will be on the road for three straight, traveling to take on Hendrix and Rhodes in early October, before returning home for three straight. They'll take on Millsaps and Birmingham-Southern the weekend of Oct. 13 through 15 at the Oglethorpe Track and Field, then welcome in-state rival Berry for Senior Day on Oct. 21. They'll round out the schedule with a road trip to Wesleyan before heading into the SAA Tournament.
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 schedule should provide the Petrels a chance to be tested in non-conference play before ramping up to the rigors of the SAA slate. The conference will provide a challenging schedule once again, but if Oglethorpe gels by that point, they have an excellent chance to be competitive in SAA play. Anania is looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm excited to get started," said Anania. "We've got a great mix of players, and I look forward to competing as the year goes on. Our non-conference schedule should provide a nice ramp-up into our SAA slate. It should be an exciting year!"