When East Tennessee State’s soccer team plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament semifinals tonight, it will be against a familiar opponent.
Stetson and ETSU have made a habit of facing off in big games in their brief series history. The Bucs defeated the Hatters 1-0 in overtime in last year’s A-Sun championship game. The year before, Stetson won the matchup 3-2 in the tournament semifinals. This year, they played to a scoreless draw in the regular season.
“Whenever we’ve played them it’s always been a big game, a decisive conference game,” ETSU coach Scott Calabrese said Thursday. “They’re very talented and absolutely deserving of their No. 2 seed. It’s going to be a very close and very competitive game.”
Sixth-seeded ETSU comes into the 7 p.m. game at Summers-Taylor Stadium with a 10-6-3 record. No. 2 Stetson is 10-5-3.
Top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (10-5-2) takes on No. 4 Mercer (9-7-3) in the other semifinal at 4 p.m. The winners play in Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game with the A-Sun’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at stake.
ETSU advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over Jacksonville on Wednesday night as junior midfielder David Haba scored his first two goals of the season. Mercer beat Lipscomb 2-1 in the other quarterfinal.
Calabrese knows a thing or two about Stetson. He served as an assistant coach at the DeLand, Fla., school in 1999. Ian Luya, Calabrese’s assistant coach, was an assistant at Stetson from 2005-07.
“I think it’s a respectful rivalry,” fifth-year Stetson coach T. Logan Fleck said. “I respect Scott Calabrese so much. When we go to play, both teams really know, ‘This is it. Let’s play. A lot’s at stake.’ It’s a very competitive series. I’ve been a college head coach for 25 years and no one in the Atlantic Sun has done more at a quicker pace than Scott Calabrese.
“And I am very jealous of his facilities.”
ETSU won last year’s tournament championship on an overtime goal by Itode Fubara.
“I think it’s gonna be a good game,” Fleck said. “The quarters are where teams are wide open. It gets a little tighter in the championship.
“They should have a great crowd here. They have an excellent following and a great atmosphere.”
The Hatters lost last season’s A-Sun player of the year, Frederik Brustad, to graduation. All they did was produce another player of the year, junior midfielder Jonathan Mendoza. The Colombian leads the league with 11 goals and 27 points.
Stetson also had the league’s defensive player of the year in Luis Ocejo.
The Hatters haven’t lost since Sept. 30, going 7-0-2 in their final nine games of the regular season.
“We’re looking really closely at the tape to make sure we have the right game plan to deal with how they play and how to deal with Johnny Mendoza,” Calabrese said.
“They way they play is different than a lot of the teams. They’re very organized. They can sit back and try to catch you in the counter or they can push forward and press you. They’re difficult to prepare for.”