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GSU women eye another title
Brian Dunleavy, Georgia Southern women's soccer - photo by Courtesy GSU Athletics

    On one hand, first-year Georgia Southern women’s soccer coach Brian Dunleavy has big shoes to fill if he wants to duplicate the success of former coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel, who departed for Virginia Commonwealth after leading the Eagles to the 2012 Southern Conference championship – the first in GSU history.
    On the other hand, Dunleavy is picking up right where he left off. He takes over the program after serving for two years as Vanderspiegel’s assistant at GSU.
    As far as he’s concerned, 2012 is in the past, and it’s time to raise the bar again.
    “We’ve got them locked into thinking about the next opponent and the next practice,” Dunleavy said. “We want them staying in the moment and focusing on the process, and in doing so, we kind of have to almost eliminate the thought process of 2012 – we learn from it, we grow from it, we forget it, and now we move forward.”
    So far, it’s been a good approach.
    “If anything, they feel like they can achieve more,” he added.
    There are plenty of weapons returning from the 2012 squad.
    Nora El-Shami was in midseason form in the Eagles’ Aug. 18 scrimmage against future Sun Belt Conference rival Georgia State, knotting the score at 1-1 after State opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the match, sparking a run and an eventual 3-1 win.
“For the most part, our big guns were definitely there. Nora is a very special player,” Dunleavy said, “and she really rose to the occasion when we were down 1-0 and got us even.”
     El-Shami and Sydnie Van Curen return as the team’s leading scorers, each netting five goals in 2012, and helping lead the Eagles to a 10-7-5 overall record.
    Senior keeper Katie Merson returns to the net after starting all 22 games last season.
    Sophomore Katey Lippitt, a team captain, anchors a defense that helped limit GSU’s opponents to 19 goals last year.
    “She’s strong-willed and does a great job of getting us organized,” Dunleavy said.
    Dunleavy’s primary focus is keeping the team’s eyes forward, and making sure they learn in a more fundamental way, rather than building upon early success like last season, when GSU opened the season at 4-0-2 but stumbled midseason with four straight losses before rebounding in the SoCon tournament.
    “The way we approach the game from a tactical perspective will stay pretty much the same,” Dunleavy said. “Day-to-day operations will change, and a lot of things we do accountability-wise towards the players — make them accountable and more responsible and educate them along the way on doing things the right way every day — will change. We want them to get results from the process, as opposed to being more results-oriented in the past.”
    The Eagles opened the season on Friday with a 2-1, overtime loss at Indiana State.
“We came out strong, played our game, then got complacent and Indiana State took advantage,” Dunleavy said. “We didn’t play well for large portions of the game and good teams make you pay when you’re not performing at a high level. We’ve got another big game on Sunday at Indiana, so we’re going to turn our attention to that.”
    The Eagles play at Indiana today and N.C. State on Friday before capping the long road trip at High Point on Sept. 1.
    The home schedule opens on Friday, Sept. 6, against Stetson. The SoCon schedule — the last for the program — is still a month away with the first in-conference game taking place at Samford on Friday, Sept. 27.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.