MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - With 22 returning players, there won't be many new faces on the Georgia College & State University soccer roster, but there still is a sense of a new start for the program, as Juan Pablo Favero takes over as head coach.
Favero, accustomed to taking over programs and turning them into conference and regional contenders, will have a bit different focus with his Bobcats. The Georgia College soccer team is coming off its best season in the four-year history of the program, a year that set a school record in wins at 13, and tallied program bests with 46 goals scored and just 17 allowed.
"I'm excited to get started on the transition," said Favero. "We're looking at this season as a new start, but will use the momentum from last year's success which awakened the sleeping giants in this immensely talented soccer team."
The returners are a talented bunch, losing just four seniors-three starters-from last year's squad. All three All-Peach Belt Conference (PBC) selections in school history also return to the 2008 version of Bobcat soccer.
"Although I spent limited time with the team in the Spring, it's very clear they're driven toward success," he added. "I'm sure one of their goals is to win this conference. If they really go after it, they know they can do it. There's a number of phenomenal teams in the league, so it's not an easy objective to meet. We are going to use the momentum that started last season with the excitement of the transition to go after it wholeheartedly."
The Bobcats weren't that far off last year, picking up the first PBC Tournament win in program history in offing Clayton State by a 2-0 tally. The team then traveled to top-seeded Columbus State and lost in the conference semifinals in a 1-0 thriller, a game that could've gone either way. The Cougars eventually lost to National Champion Tampa in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.
So how do the Bobcats make the next step? Consistent Excellence. The path begins with an amped up schedule of games, facing some of the toughest programs in the region and surrounding states.
Of the 18 games, seven programs were nationally-ranked at some point during the 2007 season with five qualifiers from the 2007 NCAA Tournament dotting the Bobcats' schedule in 2008.
"The key for this team will be the understanding that every game counts. Our strength of schedule is so much higher than it has been in the past, which gives us the potential to achieve great things if we take care of business. Each game needs to be played like a deciding game, because it really is."
With a new coach comes a new style of play, one that both Favero and the players are excited about.
"We're going to play better soccer this year. We're going to be more motivated, more united, and more organized. The result will be a more attractive, efficient game of soccer that will be tough to beat."
Favero will implement a more possession-oriented and skillful style that has provided his teams so much success in the past.
"I'll be shocked if by the end of the year multiple people haven't approached us and said ‘this is a much different style of soccer than we've ever seen here' or ‘I enjoy watching the game played this way'."
"I know this group is talented enough and has enough of a will to succeed to catch on quickly to the new style. They made great strides in the spring and are just so hungry to show what they can do, that they won't settle for less than success. It's harder to play this style, but once you get it, it's even harder to defend."
Favero can also rely on a four-member senior class that will provide plenty of leadership on and off the field.
"I've inherited an excellent group of young ladies that are not only great players with excellent talent, but are committed to excellence in every area of their lives."
Having spent just a few short weeks with the team last spring, much of the Bobcat soccer preseason will be spent in evaluative mode.
"Before we can get down to formations and personnel decisions, we have to evaluate where we're at as a team, where we want to go, and our strengths and weaknesses. Only then can we start on the specific process to achieving our goals."
Part of that evaluation will include the six-member recruit class.
"Although not a large class in terms of quantity, we are very excited in the quality of this class, which matters more," said Favero. "All of these ladies have played at a very high level club and/or High school soccer and have benefited from good coaching to help prepare them for the challenges of college soccer."
With a new style of play, plenty of skillful players and high-reaching goals set for the fall, Bobcat supporters are sure to get a taste of "the beautiful game" with the new attitude Bobcats.
The GCSU Department of Athletics sponsors 10 NCAA Division II athletic programs over three seasons. As a Division II program, GCSU prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement. Follow the Bobcats and their positive impact on the Milledgeville community at www.gcsu.edu/bobcats.