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Clayton State ties No. 20 Tampa in opener

Jonny Evans is one of six starters returning this season for the Clayton State men’s soccer team. (Special Photo)

Jonny Evans is one of six starters returning this season for the Clayton State men’s soccer team. (Special Photo)

MORROW — The schedule that Clayton State men’s soccer team inherited this season was designed to be tough.

That’s because a couple of season’s ago, Lakers coach Pete Petersen had anticipated that his team would be a contender. The Lakers had a standout recruiting class and Petersen wanted to test this group with a challenging schedule.

For various reasons, some players from that group two years ago are no longer on the team, and this year’s group was stuck with the schedule.

But don’t expect any complaints from Petersen.

“My crystal ball is a little murky, but we are cautiously excited about this team,” Petersen said. “Things are starting to come together. I’m getting positive reports from our players that everybody has bought into what we are trying to do.”

And if the season opener is any indication, the Lakers appear to be on the right track.

Clayton State opened the season with a 2-2 tie against No. 20 Tampa at home on Thursday.

The team tied the match in the 38th minute of the first half on a goal by Nikola Gazibara. After falling behind, 2-1 in the second half, a goal by Alhagi Toure knotted the score at 2-2.

After getting off to a slow start, the Lakers controlled much of the second half and overtime periods, outshooting Tampa 14-2 after the first 45 minutes of play. A red card by a Tampa player late in the match gave the Lakers a one-man advantage for the final 30 minutes of play.

“We are going to jump right into the fire at the beginning of the season,” Petersen said.

Coming into the season, Clayton State was picked to finish fifth in the preseason Peach Belt Conference coaches’ poll.

“I would say that we deserve to be picked in the middle of the pack,” Petersen said when the poll was released. “We were young last year, but that bodes well for this year and the future. We are better than last year, but we have a very tough road schedule. I hope we fly under the radar for now. It’s how the campaign ends that counts.”

During the offseason, Clayton State signed 15 players.

“We have a really good mix of youth and veteran leadership in this class,” Petersen said. “Last year, we were so young that we felt it was important to bring in some veteran players. With the experienced group we have returning along with the new guys, we have a solid group to continue the winning tradition of Clayton State soccer.”