By Chris Whitaker
The Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS — If one game went the other way last season, the Georgia Southwestern men's soccer team would have made the Peach Belt Conference Tournament.
But instead, the Hurricanes lost eight games by one goal, including five conference games, and they missed out on the postseason.
The Lady Hurricanes struggled in conference play before pulling out a pair of 1-0 wins to end the season.
When the PBC preseason coaches polls came out this week, both teams were picked to finish last. There are nine teams on the men's side and 11 for the women.
"To be fair, based on previous results, I understand why we were voted in as last," said men's coach Warren Russ. "Obviously, we believe we're better than a last-place team. We want to try to get up as high up the table that we can. There's certainly teams in the wheelhouse we can leapfrog. I believed that last year, and I certainly believe that this year. We're going to shoot for the same spots. We want to work our way up to the middle of the pack."
GSW finished 2-13 overall and 1-7 in conference play. It lost to preseason favorite Clayton State (60 points) and the third-place team Montevallo (49) by one goal.
Flagler (56) is second, Lander (42) is fourth, and the rest of the poll rounds out with North Georgia (35), UNC Pembroke (34), Francis Marion (24), USC Aiken (14) and GSW (10).
"The top of the conference is immensely strong," said Russ. "Clayton and Flagler have been the most consistent the last couple of years and are immensely talented. They don't recruit, they reload and keep getting better, quality players. I think Montevallo has a big rebuilding program, but if they got good recruits, they can push for the top as well."
GSW returns five starters after losing two of its top three scorers in All-Conference performer Sam Hooke and Kacey Barnard.
Russ said opponents don't overlook the Hurricanes anymore, and he hopes some of those one-goal games will go their way this year.
"Teams don't take us for granted in any way," he said. "They know they're going to get a hard gam and will have to work to get a win. A couple of teams were lucky to get out with a (win). This year, we need to make sure we get those results. One or two results either way, that would change the conference standings in quite a large way."
GSW opens the season Sept. 2 against Southeastern (Fla.) at Brewton Parker, and its first conference game is Sept. 14 at home against Flagler.
"We'll know where we stand right away," said Russ.
The Lady Hurricanes were 4-13 overall and 2-8 in conference play. Their 1-0 wins against Aiken and Flagler were their lone goals in conference play.
Defending PBC champion Columbus State was edged out by Armstrong Atlantic for the top spot; Armstrong (95 points) received five first-place votes and Columbus (93) received four.
The rest of the poll wound up with North Georgia (78), UNC Pembroke (76), Lander (56), Georgia College (55), Montevallo 49, Clayton State and Flagler (36), Aiken (17) and GSW (14).
Women's Notes: The Lady Hurricanes return seven starters from last year's squad...senior Brittney Hill is one goal shy of tying the school's career scoring record (16) held by Elizabeth Keller. Hill's 0.72 points per game average over her three-year career is also a school record...sophomore Courtney Simpson was second on the team last fall with three goals...on defense, sisters Ally and Amanda Canganelli return for their third season after helping GSW shave the team's saves number last year to an NCAA-era low of 126