Fall preview: who's who in the SoCon
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Men’s Cross Country
At the last Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, the Mercer University Men’s Cross Country team finished seventh out of ten teams. The team graduated three seniors out of nine total members.
“This upcoming season will be more of a building season with an incoming class of seven freshman guys, but I am sure that we will still have a successful season,” said senior Austin Pfeifer.
While the Atlantic Sun was a competitive conference for cross country, the Southern Conference could possibly prove to be even more challenging. Not only did the Furman University Paladins win the Southern Conference championship, but they also had top-three finishes on two other occasions. The Paladins are graduating four seniors, but the team has a plethora of competitive runners returning.
“The SoCon will have many strong teams, but I am sure we will compete well with them,” said Pfeifer.
Women’s Cross Country
The Mercer Women’s Cross Country team finished six out of 10 teams at the 2013 Atlantic Sun Championship. The team is only losing two seniors and they have a lot of members returning for the 2014-2015 season.
The Furman Paladins not only won the men’s championship, but they also won the women’s cross country championship. Along with that championship, the lady Paladins were among the top three in three separate races. The team is only graduating two seniors and they are going to be a difficult group to compete with, but that does not lower the Mercer team’s expectations.
“I expect the new conference to present us with new challenges with more competition, and it will also give us a chance to run against many different teams. I think we will match up well with the other teams in the SoCon, and the competition will help us improve and become stronger,” said Kami Orrender, team captain.
The Mercer Men’s Soccer team will have a great deal of work to do to prepare for their entrance into the Southern Conference. In the 2013 season, the team possessed a 5-14-1 overall record, while losing to North Florida in the first round of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship.
Although the team lost six seniors, they are gaining thirteen freshmen and two transfers. With so many young players, the squad will need to step up before starting their Southern Conference schedule.
“The freshman coming in will create a difference in terms of players, but our team mentality will not change. I think integrating the freshman and getting them on the same page could be key to our success early on,” said junior Mark Riggins. “They are all excited to come in to try to prove that they have what it takes to help us win games and we’re excited to see what they can do.”
The Elon University Phoenix has been the defending champions of the men’s Southern Conference Championship for the past three years. In the 2013 season, the Phoenix went 15-5-3 and graduated five seniors.
Although the Bears struggled this past season, the team is confident that they will be able to bounce back this next year.
“The SoCon is full of great teams, with a legendary program like Furman and consistent teams like Wofford (College) and UNCG (University of North Carolina at Greensboro). They’re all tough opponents, but we have what it takes to beat even the best, like Furman,” said Riggins. “ETSU (East Tennessee State University will also be an exciting rival to play after having played against them so many times before.”
The Mercer Women’s Soccer team finished the 2013 season with a 10-8-3 overall record, while losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Championship to longtime rival, Florida Gulf Coast University.
Although the team graduated six players, they have a strong and devoted group of rising seniors to fall back on. Within this large senior class, the team has a great deal of leadership and experience to carry them forward.
“We have 10 seniors this year and we’re counting on our experience to help us get through some big games,” said senior Lauren Gassie. “It will be important for all of us to encourage the freshman, help them get through preseason, and allow them to develop as players.”
In the 2013 Southern Conference Championship, the Furman Paladins came out victorious. The Paladins also appeared in the 2012 championship finals before falling to the Georgia Southern University Eagles.
Although the competition is fierce, the lady Bears are confident that they will be fully prepared and have the opportunity to have an extremely successful season.
“We are having an intense preseason in order to allow us to perform for each game. We’re playing new teams, so scouting reports and pre-game practices are going to be crucial. We’re preparing to hopefully win a conference championship,” said Gassie.
In the 2013 season, the Mercer volleyball team struggled throughout their conference and nonconference schedule. After only winning one game, the Mercer team was not eligible to compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship. After graduating four seniors, the team is bringing in six new freshmen and one transfer student. Even though the team is young, they are expecting to be extremely competitive with the teams of the Southern Conference.
“With seven new players and losing four seniors, there will definitely be opportunities arising for the new comers, and I am excited to see the new girls compete for the starting positions,” said senior Caroline Carlton.
In 2013, the Georgia Southern Eagles came out victorious in the Southern Conference Championship against the Samford Bulldogs. Even though the Eagles are moving to the Sunbelt Conference for the 2014-2015 season, the SoCon will still be an extremely competitive conference.
Longtime rival for the Bears, the ETSU Buccaneers will also be joining the SoCon. The Buccaneers won the 2012 ASUN Conference Championship and will prove to be a tough competitor for the Bears.
“The Southern Conference will be different, but it will be exciting and it’s time for a change. I think our primary rivals will be ETSU and Samford (University),” said Carlton. “We have competed against ETSU for the past several years in the Atlantic Sun Conference and we are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. We have also competed against Samford, which has proven to be consistently a strong program.“
Last season, the Bears obtained the 2014 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship title in Jacksonville, Fla. In addition, Hans Reimers and James Beale, the team’s two seniors, individually finished in first and second at the championship.
Although the team is losing it’s top two performers, senior Trey Rule is confident in his team and what they will be able to do on the course.
“Losing two first team all-conference players and leaders like Hans and James is tough and they will be missed. The three of us have played together for three years and we made history. We could never replace them, but we have capable guys who can step up this year,” said Rule.
At the Southern Conference Men’s Golf Championship, the Georgia Southern Eagles finished on top, with the Chattanooga Mocs and the UNCG Spartans taking second and third place. Although the Eagles will not be returning to the SoCon for the upcoming season, the conference will nonetheless prove to be extremely competitive.
Rule and the rest of the team plan to keep moving forward and continue to compete with the top programs in the country.
“We cannot dwell and hang our hat because of what we did last year. We had a great, record-breaking year, but it is just the beginning. I’m expecting us to be just as competitive as we were and strive to be even better. It’s going to be fun seeing who will step up and make the travel team,” said Rule.
The Mercer Women’s Golf team also had a successful 2013-2014 season, and they finished third out of 10 teams in the Atlantic Sun Championship.
The lady Bears are only graduating two seniors and have four golfers returning for the upcoming year. Although the two seniors contributed greatly this past season, the team has high hopes for the approaching 2014-2015 season.
“We have a really solid group of girls this year including four returners and three freshman coming in. We have a lot of talent on our team and we are coming back after a really great 2013-2014 season where we finished 55th in the nation,” said senior Sarah Brown.
The Chattanooga Mocs are the five-time defending champions of the Southern Conference. Year after year, the program has proven to be a strong competitor and will be a difficult opponent for the Bears.
Another competitor that the team has faced many times before, the ETSU Buccaneers, has been a long time rival for the team.
“Our biggest rival without a doubt is ETSU. They were our number one enemy in Atlantic Sun as well,” said Brown. “Unfortunately, we lost to them at the conference championships this past season, but we have beaten them in regular season tournaments over the past year. This season we are coming back with a vengeance and we plan to win that SoCon trophy.”