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Eagles look to be in the Sun Belt title hunt
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Practices have commenced and classes are just around the corner. And on Thursday, a Georgia Southern squad will take part in the first exhibition of the 2017 season when the women’s soccer team kicks off against Jacksonville. The Eagles will be right back at it on Saturday with another scrimmage at Erk Russell Park against Georgia before beginning its regular season next week.
    “It’s a neat thing how our sport is always the first to get going at Georgia Southern,” head coach Brian Dunleavy said. “I know we’re ready to see what we can do on the field. Hopefully these games will give us an idea about what we need to do to have a good season.”
    The Eagles will be on the hunt for improvement after a rough 2016 campaign. A 6-10-1 was far from bad, but seven of those losses came against conference opponents as Georgia Southern brought up the rear in the always-talented Sun Belt.
    Only four Eagles notched more than one goal last season. Just one of that quartet returns this season, but it’s exactly who Dunleavy would want as forward Sarah Price prepares for her senior season. Last year — Price’s first with the Eagles — she immediately commanded a starting spot at the top of the attack and proceeded to lead the team in goals (8), points (18) and shots (31).
    While some of the offense graduated out of the program, the deeper-lying portions of the lineup will have much more experience
    Along with Price and goalkeeper Lauren Karnishak, the return of midfielders Junique Rodriguez and Angelica Wallerstedt, as well as defenders Alana McShane and Madeline Jones mean that the Eagles bring back the top-six minute-loggers from 2016.
    “Now we have a year’s worth of games and workouts to build on,” Dunleavy said. “You look at last season and we’re a couple of close games from being right in the middle of the league. We’re looking to improve on the field, and a lot of that also comes from how all of our girls buy into the academics side and the overall culture of the team.”
    Dunleavy said that another perk for the upcoming season is the ability to play more games close to home. Four of the team’s six non-conference matches will be played in Georgia — the other two coming during a tournament in Washington.
    And following a three-game road trip to begin Sun Belt play, the Eagles will only leave home again for a weekend trip through Appalachian State and Troy.
    “I think the schedule works out well for us,” Dunleavy said. “Our first game, we get a home match against a Florida Gulf Coast team that is a regular qualifier for the NCAA tournament. That kind of lets us know where we stand right away.
    “From there, our long trip works out because — after we get back — it gives us a full week to prepare for our Sun Belt schedule. It’s a talented conference with a lot of parity. We’ll rest up and be ready to go.”
    The season opener against FGCU is scheduled for Friday, August 18 at Erk Russell Park. Sun Belt play will run from mid-September through October, with the conference tournament scheduled for the first weekend of November in Foley, Ala.