By Doug Gorman
When the Clayton State men's soccer team opens its season next week with games at Nova Southern and Barry College in Florida, it will be the start of what head coach Pete Petersen thinks could be the toughest schedule ever.
"I thought we had some tough schedules in the past, but I know for a fact, next year's schedules won't be nearly this hard."
After the two road games to get things started, it doesn't get any easier for the Lakers as they face NCAA Division II powers Tampa on Sept. 4, and Lynn Sept. 6 at home as part of the Labor Day weekend action.
Both opponents are expected to be among the nation's top teams.
Lynn is coached by former Clayton State coach John Rootes.
For Petersen, it's always fun when the two soccer coaches go up against each other.
"I got him a yellow card, last year," Petersen joked. "But it really is fun. There aren't too many coaches I don't like. There are a lot of guys I enjoy coaching against."
The early-season games should prove to be a solid tests for Clayton State. A year ago, the Lakers went 9-5-4 overall and 3-0-3 in the Peach Belt Conference to finish second in the league.
Clayton State brings back 17 letterwinners from last year, including eight starters.
Among those returning to the line up are senior goalkeeper, David Cristofoil, who compiled a 1.10 goals against average.
Leighton Fredericks, who was named the Peach Belt Conference's Player of the Year after scoring 13 goals, brings plenty of punch back to the Lakers' offense. Other returners include, Matty Phillips, Kyle Timm, Matthias Faublas, Brett Nielsen, Liam Brown, and Roger Boniface.
Veterans Ryan Pugh, Jonathan McKeever, Suhkman Bal, Chris Carman, Jonathan Ray, Seth Scott, Jordan Gilbert, Sam Bevan and Jesse Moret return to the squad.
Eight new players have been added to the Clayton State roster, including a mix of both college transfers and true freshmen.
Brian Endres, David Hunter, Igo Lukic, Deni Lulic, Bran Forero, Alargie Jobe, Bobby Dodd, and Angelo Suarez will be making their first appearences with the Lakers.
Practice is going really well, Petersen said. "This year, we are going to go witha 4-3-1-2 alignment and stress defense. I am really pleased wth the way they have picked things up. We are trying not to give up silly goals."
Clayton State faces some tough test once it gets into Peach Belt Conference play. Francis Marion, the Lakers first conference opponent on Sept. 18, and Lander, on Hollowen night, were tied for the lead in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll.
The Lakers were picked right behind those two teams.
College soccer powers Flagler and Montevello join the PBC this year.
Women: A year ago, things didn't go very well for the Lady Lakers.
A 1-14-1 record was a season veteran head coach T.O. Totty would soon forget about.
Clayton State brings back seven starters from last year's disappointing season, including the only senior on among the starters, Rebekah Cook who scored two goals and added 1 assist from her midfield spot.
Maggie Mueller, Caitlin Clark, Danelle Douglas, Jennifer Dreasler, Haley Durham and Janei Ivey also return to the starting line up.
The Lady Lakers are also hoping to get a boost out of red-shirt freshman Cherie Sayon and red-shirt hjunior Elizabeth Cook.
Several players with local ties are also expected turn things around for the Clayton State women.
Union Grove graduate Megan Nuckolls, who played in 13 games, starting five is a back at her defender postion.
Junior Medeka McGregor, who played at Luella High School, Kimberly Joiner and Union Grove graduate Haley Durham are all on the roster this year at CSU.
The Lady Lakers open the season at home against Spelman College next Saturday, before hitting the road for two games at West Georgia and Les McRae.
"Practices have been very encouraging," Totty said. "We have strengthened our midfield and defense, and that's going to be a key for us."
The Lady Lakers are young in spots with only Cook, Verinque Cooper and Kimberly Leeds coming back as seniors.
"The leadership the seniors bring definitely helps," Totty said.
Columbus State is picked to win the Peach Belt Conference in the peseason poll.
The Lady Lakers were picked down at the bottom in the ninth spot.
Clayton State opens its conference slate on Sept. 10 at Armstrong Atlantic.