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Fall sports kick off their season

By Dan Kelly
Sports Editor

Men’s Soccer            

The UNCP Men’s Soccer team will try to follow its 12-3-5 record from last season and improve on some other key areas. 

“Hopefully, if we end in a penalty kick shootout, we’ll finally win one,” said head coach Mike Schaffer.            

The Braves’ 2005 season was ended by consecutive shootout losses to Francis Marion University and conference rival Lander University.

Defense will be a key to the 2006 team.            

Returning NSCAA All-American Christian Staackman returns for his sophomore year as one of the key starters.

Other key players to the defense will be goalkeeper Richard Sallin, defender Steve Locker, and sophomore captain Zach Rowell.

“He’s (Rowell) relentless. Not the most skilled player, but in his job he’s the best. All he has to do is go get that ball and get it to somebody on the team,” Schaffer said.            

The offense, though, is going to take some time to gel due to movement of players from other positions to the offense and early-season injuries, Schaffer said.            
           
Wins in the Peach Belt Conference will still be tough to come by, as UNCP was ranked No. 3 in the preseason behind No. 2 USC-Upstate and No. 1 Clayton State University.

The Braves, Lander and  Clayton State are nationally  ranked in the NCAA Divison II top 25.            

The rest of the conference is still competitive, as success is hardly assured for these top teams.

 “Our bottom-end teams are very dangerous, so you can’t relax in a game that we play,” Schaffer said.            

The goal for Schaffer is for UNCP to end up No.1 in the PBC, but also said that it wasn’t a lock by any means.

Women’s Soccer

The UNCP Women’s Soccer team is coming off its best season in its five years of existence. The 2005 squad finished with a 13-6-1 record and went undefeated at home.            

Even with that success, head coach Lars Andersson maintains that the objective is always to improve.

The Braves defense will be returning three of its four starters from last season and have a trio of goalkeepers backing them up.

Goalkeeping & Scoring            

“We have three very good goalkeepers on the roster which is, I think, rather unusual…All three of them are vying for the starting position or certainly for playing time.”

The forward position can also be a strength for the team, with All-conference and All-region player Melanie Cobb returning for her senior year.            

The Braves will likely face a challenging schedule this season as Andersson labeled the PBC as “highly competitive.”

“I would like to think that our conference is one of the top two or three conferences, certainly top three, in the country,” Andersson said.

Women’s Volleyball            

The UNCP Women’s Volleyball team is looking to improve on its 11-21  record from 2005.

Head coach Jeff Billington sees their #6 preseason rank as more of a sign of the past than this upcoming season.            

“I think it’s great. They obviously don’t know that we’re going to be much better than we were last year,” Billington said.

Teamwork

The source of Billington’s optimism stems from the team unity the 2006 squad has displayed so far.            

Also, more practical aspects like improved ball control and a greater number of go-to players.

“I think we can safely say that we have a team this year, not just a group of individuals,” Billington said.            

The strength of the Peach Belt Conference this season is it’s fiercest in the top third.

Billington thinks that’s  exactly where the Braves belong.            

“The level of play is okay. I don’t think it’s outstanding and I don’t think it’s something that we can’t finish in the top third this year,” Billington said.

Cross Country

The UNCP Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams are coming off of second-place finishes in the Peach Belt Conference and are looking to improve on those results.            

“We hope to at least maintain. Secondly, we hope to win the championship,” said head coach Larry Rodgers.

The women’s team likely has a better chance of repeating that sucess as they have a stronger core of five runners, which is led by Katerina Matousova.            

Their finishing times should be grouped even closer together this season, Rodgers said.

The men’s side will “have to work a little bit harder” according to Rodgers, as PBC freshman of they year, Kipp Martim, transferred from UNCP between seasons.            

Giovanni Billotta will be the top men’s runner for the 2006 season.

Rodgers places the Braves in the top three of the PBC this season, alongside Clayton State and Columbus State.
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Updated: Tuesday, September 12, 2006
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