FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 2011 FGCU women’s soccer team’s schedule will test the defending Atlantic Sun champions, as the Eagles face five top 100 RPI teams from a year ago and three opponents who advanced to last year’s NCAA Tournament field.
Led by fifth-year head coach Jim Blankenship, the nine-game non-conference schedule features five teams that earned a spot in their respective Conference Tournaments and won nine or more games. As a group, the opponents finished with a combined 94-69-21 record in 2010.
The Atlantic Sun Conference portion of the schedule brings three of the six qualifying teams from the 2010 Conference Tournament to the FGCU Soccer Complex where the Eagles went 7-2 last season. FGCU posted an 8-0-2 mark in A-Sun action and takes a 13-game unbeaten streak into league play in 2011. FGCU returns 14 players from last year’s club that won the regular season crown, posted a conference-best 11 shutouts and led the A-Sun with just two goals against in conference contests.
“I am excited about the level of games and the opportunity for our team to succeed,” said Blankenship. “It is a difficult schedule that will prepare us for conference and defending our title. Playing teams that competed in the NCAA Tournament will have us ready for a postseason run.”
FGCU officially opens the season with games against Eastern Washington on Friday, Aug. 19 and BIG EAST member Syracuse on Sunday, Aug. 21 as part of the Embassy Suites Kick-Off Classic at the FGCU Soccer Complex. The Eagles then enjoy a five-day break before heading to North Carolina for a two-game road trip to Charlotte (Aug. 26) and Davidson (Aug. 28). Charlotte finished in a first place tie in the Atlantic 10 conference last season and was the runner-up in the A-10 tournament.
A home contest against another A-10 opponent, Duquesne, is set for Friday, Sept. 2. It precedes Miami’s first visit to the FGCU Soccer Complex on September 6, when the Eagles look for revenge after dropping a 3-1 decision last year in Coral Gables.
FGCU continues to face in-state opponents with a weekend trip to FIU (Sept. 9) and SEC champion Florida (Sept. 11). A season removed from winning the Sun Belt Championship, FIU finished in fourth with an 11-9-1 overall record and 7-4 conference mark in 2010. The Panthers defeated FGCU last season, 1-0, in double-overtime. Florida claimed the SEC regular-season and tournament titles, while finishing the season ranked 12th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll. The Gators made it to the NCAA second round before falling to Duke in penalty kicks.
Staying in the state, FGCU then heads to Conference USA champion UCF on September 18 before starting conference play. Despite falling in the league championship game, the Knights drew an NCAA bid after clinching the Conference USA regular season title and an overall record of 15-5-3. UCF finished the season with an RPI of 23, which is the highest of any of the opponents the Eagles will face.
Atlantic Sun action begins with a pair of weekend games against UNF and Jacksonville. The Eagles play the Ospreys on Friday, Sept. 23 before hosting Jacksonville on Sunday, Sept. 25. The Dolphins earned the No. 1 seed in last year’s A-Sun Tournament, but took second to FGCU in the final standings with an 8-1-1 conference record. The Eagles battle to a scoreless tie in Jacksonville last season before defeating UNF, 2-1.
The Blue and Green then travel to Stetson for a match on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. and continue on to Georgia. FGCU plays defending A-Sun tournament champ Mercer on October 7 before heading north to face Kennesaw State on October 9. The Eagles downed the Hatters, 4-0, in the final game last season to clinch the A-Sun title. Mercer finished third in the A-Sun, but won the tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Owls are coming of an 8-8-3 season in 2010, and reached the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship semifinals where they lost to Jacksonville.
FGCU’s return to Florida comes in the form of a pair of A-Sun contests against USC Upstate (Oct. 14) and ETSU (Oct. 16) at home. The Eagles pulled out a 1-0 win in Johnson City, Tenn., last season recording a scoreless double-overtime draw in South Carolina. The USC Upstate game will be Senior Night for the team’s eight seniors.
A two-game road trip to Tennessee closes out the Blue and Green’s A-Sun schedule with contests against Lipscomb and Belmont. FGCU plays Lipscomb on October 21 before taking on a Belmont squad under first-year head coach Heather Hansen on October 23. This marks the first time since the inaugural year of the program that the Eagles finish their schedule on the road.
FGCU completed its four-year NCAA provisional period and is now fully eligible for the A-Sun and NCAA tournaments. The Eagles will contend for a spot in the A-Sun tournament, which begins on October 29, and compete for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles are led by a class of eight seniors, including A-Sun Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year KC Correllus (Merritt Island, Fla./Florida State) and first team All-Conference members, midfielder Olivia Elias (Coral Gables, Fla./American Heritage-Delray) and goalkeeper Stephanie Powers (Seffner, Fla./Armwood).