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GSU the favorite in SoCon tourney

GSU the favorite in SoCon tourney

GSU the favorite in SoCon tourney

Georgia Southern's Crysten Curry atte...

    Dustin Wood’s first year in the Southern Conference was pretty good by any measurable standard.
    His Georgia Southern Eagles went 25-5, finished at the top of the Southern Conference in the regular season and brings the team to Greenville, S.C., for the 2013 Southern Conference tournament as the favorite to win the championship.
    The tournament starts today, with the Eagles playing eighth-seeded Elon (16-16).
    If you ask Wood, the Eagles are just getting started.
    Knowing it’s GSU’s last season in to SoCon before joining the Sun Belt in 2014, the team wants to leave in style.
    “What I want them to do is leave a mark when we leave,” Wood said. “We’ve won one championship so far — the regular season. They’re not satisfied with that. They weren’t satisfied with a 25-5 record. What is going to satisfy them is a win on Sunday night.”
    A SoCon championship would guarantee GSU a bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament, where last season’s champion, Charleston, advanced to the round of 32 with a five-set win over Miami.
    The Eagles have never won a game in the NCAA tournament, but a win in Sunday’s title game would be a huge step toward that goal.
    “If that happens, they’re not going to be satisfied with round one,” Wood said. “I told these kids that our goal is to make it to the round of 32 and see what happens. I think they’re that good. If we win on Sunday night, we expect to go out (to the NCAA tournament) and win.”
    If Georgia Southern beats Elon today, it will play the winner between No. 4 UNC Greensboro and No. 5 Appalachian State on Saturday at 5 p.m. 
    “Both teams took us to five once, and we beat them both in three when we played really well,” Wood said about ASU and UNCG. “I think if we take care of ourselves we’ll be alright. I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
    Though the Eagles are the single-elimination tournament’s favorite to win, they’ll have to be on the top of their game. Last season, the Eagles went 24-6 in the regular season and were defeated in the SoCon semifinals by Furman after taking a two-set lead. Furman also handed GSU two of its five losses this season. Should the Eagles and the No. 2 Paladins meet in the tournament, it will be in Sunday’s championship game.
    Regardless of opponent, Wood likes the Eagles’ chances as long as they stay focused.
    “We can’t hope for a team to play bad,” he said, “but if we play well, I like our chances.”
    Wood doesn’t see there being any pressure as the No. 1 seed for the second-straight season.
    “We don’t use the ‘pressure’ word anymore,” Wood said. “We’re using the word, ‘opportunity.’ They have an opportunity in front of them, and it’s up to them to go grab it, take it and run with it. Nobody’s going to give it to them.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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