Brief Conference Bio:
Player of the Year: Daniel Lovitz, Sr., MF, Elon
Coach of the Year: Darren Powell, Elon
Freshman of the Year: Bobby Edet, F, Furman
*Represents 2013 Atlantic Sun record
**Represents 2013 Big South record
On the men’s side, the Southern Conference underwent enough change to make it a new-look league in 2014. Indeed, more than half the conference jumped ship in the offseason, and three of the six leftovers will fight three unfamiliar teams in conference play this season.
Of last year’s SoCon teams, Elon joined the Colonial Athletic Association, Davidson jumped ship for the Atlantic 10 while both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern splintered off to the Sun Belt. That left just three holdovers in Wofford, UNC Greensboro and Furman, and the league will operate with one less team than it did last year after the new additions joined. The good news is that nucleus is strong enough to build around - Wofford won the conference last year, while both Furman and UNCG have proud traditions - and the hope is that the new faces help the league pick up where it left off.
Wofford is the defending champion, and the return of junior Hermann Trophy watch list midfielder Connor Davis is the name to watch here. His 11 goals and 27 points led the line for the Terriers, who bring back an exceptional haul of talent and should expect to challenge for a title again. UNCG’s six-player senior class should help keep the traditionally competitive program near the top in 2014, and Furman, though it had a nice nonconference season, is attempting to rebound from a middle-of-the-pack performance in conference. The return of eight starters, including stalwarts like Bobby Edet and Sven Lissek, should put Furman firmly in the hunt.
Two of the three new additions suffered through brutal seasons last year. Mercer and VMI combined to go 8-28-2 in the Atlantic Sun and Big South conferences, and while both can expect to do better this season, the conference’s traditional powers won’t feel overly threatened by their inclusion. But the third is a big one. East Tennessee State bounces into the SoCon this year off a 2013 Atlantic Sun title, and they already have an indication that they can compete. ETSU went 2-1-1 against SoCon opponents last year, including wins over Mercer and Wofford. Returning players like Thibault Civalier and Donte Brangman will look to make it two-for-two in two different conferences.
Sun Belt Conference
*Represents 2013 MAC record
**Represents 2013 SoCon record
***Represents independent status
It’s been nearly 20 years since the Sun Belt Conference had its name on a men’s soccer season. The conference disbanded its men’s soccer league in 1995, and it’s being revived in time for the 2014 season. Full-time conference members Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Georgia State will be joined by affiliate members Hartwick, Howard and NJIT to form the basis for the new league.
While there is some familiarity here - Appalachian State and Georgia Southern both joined from the SoCon, for instance - the conference season will probably resemble a free-for-all as teams get to know one another more intimately. Hartwick joins after a solid season in the MAC, while Georgia State, Howard and NJIT all faced independent schedules last year. In that sense, handicapping a conference frontrunner is hilariously difficult work. This group is as uncertain as it is new.
It’s hard not to imagine the trio with immediate conference experience will have a leg up, considering they’ve been through the grinder of a league season as recently as last year. In that sense, Hartwick has to be one of the favorites with 6-foot-3 forward Max Walcott returning to the fray for his sophomore season. Scottish assist king Marc Russell also returns for a team with title ambitions.
The former SoCon duo should be in the mix as well with a few key returners. Appalachian State brings back leading points-getters Stanley Broaden and Trey Hemphill, which should boost their chances to sit atop the conference at season’s end. Georgia Southern has to find a way to replace leading scorers Witt Carlisle and Hunter Norton, who accounted for more than half of the team’s total goal output in 2013. Jeremy Rector and Eric Dinka appear to be next in line.
Uncertainty clouds the futures of the three previous independents. Howard managed just one win last year, but NJIT and Georgia State looked salty enough to be tough outs in the fall. Last October, Georgia State managed to beat then-No. 9 Furman 2-0 before topping Appalachian State three days later. Georgia State also registered a 2-1 win over Georgia Southern last year, meaning the return of leading scorers Amiri Abraham and Stephen McGill should put them in the thick of the race.