LakePoint, Ga. - With ASUN Conference Men's Soccer exhibition games kicking off this weekend, let's take a look at the regular season schedule for the 2017 season. Several squads will be tested early on against NCAA Tournament participants and top-100 RPI teams from last season.
FGCU, which won the 2016 ASUN Championship and advanced to the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, has put together another tough non-conference schedule. The Eagles are one of three ASUN Men's Soccer teams to come into the 2017 season with a new head coach as Jesse Cormier takes over for Bob Butehorn. Cormier comes to Fort Myers, Fla. from Vermont and looks to build on last year's success.
The Eagles, ranked No. 23 in the preseason United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) poll, open the year on the road against Denver, who made it to the national semifinals last year and comes into the 2017 season ranked No. 3 in the preseason. FGCU's schedule features nine teams that ranked in the top-100 of the RPI to close out last season, including a late season showdown vs. South Florida, now under the guidance of former Eagles coach Butehorn. It will be a rematch of last year's first round NCAA Tournament contest, which the Eagles won on penalty kicks.
North Florida, who won the ASUN Men's Soccer regular season title last year, looks to return back to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 after narrowly missing an at-large selection a year ago. The Ospreys are going to face nine teams who had winning records in 2016, including NCAA Tournament participants South Carolina, Clemson and South Florida. North Florida's schedule also features a road matchup at Connecticut, who begins the season ranked No. 24 in the preseason poll.
Lipscomb has put together one of its toughest non-conference schedules in program history as the Bisons take on 11 teams that finished in the top-100 RPI, including five NCAA Tournament squads. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a matchup against SIU-Edwardsville, which advanced to the third round of last year's NCAA Tournament. Lipscomb will also make its first West Coast trip when they travel to San Diego and UC Irvine. Later in the year, the Bisons travel to Lexington, Ky. to take on the Kentucky Wildcats for a second-straight season. Lipscomb and Kentucky played to a 1-1 double overtime draw last year.
Jacksonville, which came within one game of reaching the NCAA Tournament last year, looks to take that next step in 2017. The Dolphins are going to play 11 home games at Southern Oak Stadium, including six to start the season. The non-conference schedule features a road match at perennial power Charlotte on September 17th, which enters the year ranked No. 15 in the preseason poll and advanced to the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Coming off an eight-win season in 2016, head coach Fernando Barboto heads into his second season at the helm of the NJIT program. The Highlanders are going to be tested on the road early in the year as the first five matches of 2017 are all true road contests. The team's first home game of the 2017 campaign sees them take on St. Francis Brooklyn, a 2016 NCAA Tournament participant. Later in the year, the Highlanders embark on another five-game road trip, which includes ASUN contests at Lipscomb and Stetson.
The Hatters enter the 2017 season with a new head coach as Kyle Gookins takes over the reigns in DeLand, Fla. Gookins was an integral part of the UNC Charlotte program for the past nine seasons as an assistant coach, helping the 49ers gain regional and national prominence, including a NCAA College Cup Final appearance in 2011. Stetson takes on two non-conference opponents that qualified for the 2016 NCAA Tournament in Loyola Chicago (Sept. 10) and South Florida (Sept. 14) before beginning conference play at North Florida the following weekend.
The third new head coach in the ASUN this season is Scott Halkett at USC Upstate as he takes over for longtime head coach Dr. Greg Hooks. Halkett is no stranger to the Spartans, starring on the pitch under Hooks and being an assistant coach the past four years. USC Upstate opens the season against in-state foe South Carolina, a NCAA Tournament team in 2016. The Spartans non-conference schedule features a mix of regional opponents, including home matches against Liberty (Sept. 1) and cross-town rival Wofford (Sept. 9). USC Upstate then travels to Winthrop and High Point before kicking off ASUN Conference play at NJIT.
2017 ASUN Men's Soccer Preseason Highlights:
- ASUN Conference teams combine to play 15 matches against opponents that played in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, including seven matches vs. teams that advanced to the second round or further.
- FGCU featured the nation's highest scoring offense in 2016, averaging 2.95 goals per game. The Eagles set several program records including goals scored, assists and points.
- Three ASUN Conference teams are under new leadership in 2017 as FGCU, USC Upstate and Stetson welcome new head coaches. Jesse Cormier takes over at FGCU, with Scott Halkett (USC Upstate) and Kyle Gookins (Stetson) rounding out the new faces on the sidelines.
- Albert Ruiz enters his senior season at FGCU looking to duplicate a record setting season in 2016. Ruiz led the nation in goals (22) and points (49) and was a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, the first in ASUN history. He was named to the 2017 watch list earlier this week.
- The top-five student-athletes on the ASUN Men's Soccer goal scoring charts in 2016 are back this season, giving the league some tremendous offensive talent to look forward to. Ruiz (22) led the conference, while Lipscomb's Logan Paynter and FGCU's Arion Sobers-Assue were tied for second with 11 tallies. NJIT's Mamadou Guirassy and North Florida's Adrian Nunez each scored seven goals to round out the top-five a year ago.