One team in the Georgia/South Carolina made a name for itself early on in this preseason. The Georgia Southern Eagles sprinted out of the gates to a 13-0 record and had two tournament victories (Frozen Goose and Battle in the Boro) under their belts. However, March would roll around and GSU would fine that its season was not going to go exactly as planned.
“We went into the Chucktown (Throwdown) 13-0 expecting to win out the weekend,” Georgia Southern junior captain Ryan Randall wrote us in an e-mail. “After our first 2 games we were 0-2 and our heads were down.”
Quite obviously its not easy to take losses after getting used to success. The Eagles would find a way to battle back though. After two straight losses, one to a sectional competitor, the boys from Statesboro, Ga. battled back to a 4-2 record before N.C. State’s X team knocked them out of the tournament.
“At the end of the day our team really came together and was able to learn from what had happened that day,” Randall said. “Sunday rolled around and we ended up tied for third at the tournament.”
The Eagles learned some lessons through their first three tournaments. There’s no doubt that GSU has experience in playing late in tournaments. None of the top teams aside from Jojah in the section have seen as many tournament finals as they have.
“I think that those two tournaments helped build a lot of confidence for our team that has paid off for the rest of the season,” Randall said. “This teams knows what it feels like to play all day Sunday and how to attain a tournament title. Hopefully it is this attitude and emotion that will get us into Regionals this year.”
However, there will be plenty of teams around the nation that would tell you that experience doesn’t mean much if you cannot keep your team on the field and healthy. Georgia Southern has ran into a bit of the same issues as three of their returning players have suffered season ending injuries already this year. Randall broke his collarbone at Chucktown Throwdown while junior Chase Richardson and Malachi Williams are gone to a torn ACL and a broken foot, respectively.
Usually Georgia Southern would be in a lot of trouble. Losing two key components to a team can cause a lot of difficulty from actual talent level to simple chemistry on the field. This year is not just any year for the Eagles. They have the talent and depth that losing two experienced players, while it won’t help anything, won’t hurt as much as it usually would.
“Well, with 13 returning vets and only 9 rookies we have plenty of reserve for injuries, thank God,” Randall wrote. “Actually, one thing that has impressed me about this year is the ability for us to fill in for each other. Our rookies ahve come a long way since tryouts last fall and, unlike last year, we have so many pure ahtletes on the team that it is very easy to interchange players when people are tired or injured.”
That being said, the Eagles are still rather top heavy with talent. It is not uncommon for teams to only see the top ten to twelve players on the team when they meet GSU on the field for an important game. The Eagles can manage though as some of that top talent comes in the form of senior captain Dan Jones.
Jones made a name for himself on El Diablo’s roster last club season and he has obviously gleened a lot from his time with top tier players as his game is better than ever this year.
“He is a standout on the field and provides great leadership for the rest of the team,” Randall wrote. “In my mind he is definitely one of the top players in the Region … If he wasn’t playing the team would lack leadership on the field.”
According to Randall, Jones will be putting that leadership to work this weekend in Columbia as the Eagles are expecting to have the athleticism to stick with any team. Where GSU lacks, in Randall’s mind, is the mental game and Jones’ field presence will be crucial to keeping his teammates in the right place at the right time.
It would appear that the Eagles have all the pieces put together and are ready to make a run at Regionals. To see Randall’s words though, it appears to be less of a probability and more of a foregone conclusion that in two weekends Georgia Southern will be in Charlotte competing for a bid to Nationals.
Southern is the No. 6 seed in the tournament and the second seed in the C pool. Its Saturday schedule includes matchups with Georgia Tech, Georgia-B and Clemson-B.