How humbling would it be for the defending champs to fail to qualify for the conference tournament on their own field?
The East Tennessee State men’s soccer team doesn’t want to find out.
The Bucs are in a precarious position as the regular season winds down. They need to defeat South Carolina Upstate here Saturday to slip into the field for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
A loss and they’ll be sitting in the stands at Summers-Taylor Stadium next week when the top six teams get together.
“That would be really disappointing, which is somewhat of an understatement,” coach Scott Calabrese said Wednesday. “I didn’t think we’d be in this position, but we are. Basically this will be the first game of the A-Sun playoffs for us.”
The Bucs (8-5-3) earned a national ranking early in the season, but they got off to a shaky start in the league, losing to both Belmont and Lipscomb on the first weekend. They’ve bounced back a bit lately, getting a critical win at Florida Gulf Coast last week to improve to 2-4-1. That still leaves them ahead of only winless North Florida in the standings.
In their last five matches, the Bucs have two losses and two ties, including a 1-1 affair against Clemson on Monday night.
“This is still a young team that has to go through the process to mature,” said Calabrese. “Last year we had more senior, veteran players who were leaders. This team is still developing, which is a great thing and a bad thing.
“In the short term, we can make some bad decisions. In the long term, we’re going to be good next year and the year after that.”
And, perhaps, this year, too. A win Saturday against the Spartans (2-3-2) and that ugly league slate is wiped clean.
Calabrese has no doubts the Bucs can still make a run back to the NCAA tournament.
“If you look at our performances over the past three weeks, we’ve gotten better and better,” he said. “We went through a rough patch there, but if we just get into the tournament, I think we can win it again.”
n At the other end of the expectation scale is the ETSU women’s soccer team.
Picked in the preseason to finish eighth, the Lady Bucs will be the No. 2 seed at the A-Sun tournament next week in Ft. Myers, Fla. They finished the regular season at 7-1-1 in conference (12-4-1 overall) and earned a bye into the semifinals.
“You always take preseason rankings with a pinch of salt,” said first-year coach Adam Sayers, “but we had nine new freshmen coming in and weren’t sure how it would all come together. It’s certainly nice to have exceeded those expectations by a long shot.”
The Lady Bucs have 10 days off before taking on the Jacksonville-Mercer winner on Nov. 4. Florida Gulf Coast is the top seed and will be waiting in the other semifinal.
The Lady Eagles handed ETSU its only conference loss, 3-0 on Oct. 16. The Lady Bucs then came home and tied Kennesaw State before finishing the regular season with a 2-1 victory over Mercer last Sunday.
“It was a learning experience for us,” Sayers said of the stretch run. “That whole Florida trip was very tough. We fly down on Thursday and play Friday; we got a very good win at Stetson. We have a very long bus ride on Saturday and there’s a bit of fatigue.
“Florida Gulf Coast is a very good team and played very well on that day. Now that we’ve played them once, we have a better idea of what it will take to beat them. We just hope to get that chance.”
Women’s golf coach Stefanie Shelton couldn’t have been much more pleased with her team as it left Kiawah Island, S.C., earlier this week.
The Lady Bucs finished third in the Palmetto Intercollegiate after closing with a school-record 281, seven under par, Monday at Oak Point Golf Club. They were two shots out of second place and 11 off North Carolina-Greensboro’s winning score.
“We’ve been talking all fall about how this team has the potential to do something like that,” Shelton said Wednesday. “It’s neat to be able to see it all come together.”
Gabriella Wahl led the way with a runner-up finish individually. The freshman from Heidenheim, Germany fired a 69 in the final round that left her at three under par for the tournament.
That was the second time this fall that Wahl has finished in the top six on the leaderboard.
“We obviously knew she had the potential when we recruited her,” said Shelton. “She had a great summer, playing in European ladies tour event and shooting under par. She’s a hard worker and mentally very focused.”
The Lady Bucs had four players shoot under par on Monday. Sophomore Sian Evans carded 70, and junior Chloe Garner and senior Mayte Vizcarrondo each shot 71.
The team closes out the fall schedule this weekend in the Lady Paladin Invitational at Furman.
Momentum has been hard to come by for the volleyball team, and the schedule the rest of the way doesn’t help.
The Lady Bucs have lost three of their last four matches and are heading to Kennesaw State, which just defeated them 3-0. Their last two dates of the regular season are at home against Lipscomb and Belmont, the top two teams in the conference.
“It’s a tough last four games for us,” said coach Lindsey Devine. “Kennesaw came to our place on a mission; we knocked them out of the tournament last time. We have to minimize our errors and go down there and play a much better match.
“If you look at Lipscomb and Belmont, their rosters are junior- and senior-filled, and that’s a big advantage right there. Many times we’re putting five freshmen and a sophomore on the court. We’re still learning to play together.”
The Lady Bucs (11-14, 4-5) are currently fifth in the standings and may need to find at least another win to make the playoffs. Only the top six teams get into the tournament at Lipscomb from Nov. 17-19.
The men’s tennis team has wrapped up its fall schedule, while the women still have a couple of dates. They play at College of Charleston this weekend and at Virginia Tech next weekend.
Yaser Zaatini hopes the Lady Bucs’ lineup is a little deeper when the action resumes in the spring.
“We’re lacking numbers with the women,” said Zaatini, the ETSU director of tennis. “I’m happy with the way they’re working and recognizing that we’re moving in the right direction. But we need at least a couple more to withstand a whole season.”
Zaatini has three commitments who can enroll next semester if they are cleared academically. He likes what he’s seen so far from Jessica Brumit, the freshman from Elizabethton.
“She’s been inspirational from the standpoint of effort and performance,” said Zaatini. “I would not feel comfortable if we had to throw her in the lineup right away, just because of her lack of experience, but we’re going to give her chances.”
On the men’s side, Zaatini says the team has been “struggling a little bit” and hopes his seniors can set a better tone once the spring schedule starts. The group includes the Belgian duo of Sander Gille and Jeremy Bonnevalle, and doubles specialist Robin Akser.
“Those guys really want to do well,” said Zaatini, “and they took the summer and worked hard. But the problem is they’re running out of time. A sense of urgency has to be present day in and day out.”
Gille, the A-Sun player of the year as a sophomore, and junior Jesus Bandres will likely battle for the No. 1 singles spots.