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Bisons soccer will face challenges from Big 10, Big East and Conference USA

Friday, June 12, 2009

Teams from the Big 10, the Big East and Conference USA are early tests for the Lipscomb Bisons soccer teams, but coach Charles Morrow stops short of calling the 2009 fall schedule the toughest ever for his team.

“I think it is a schedule that is comparable to the ones we have played before,” said Morrow. “I think it is a tough, very competitive schedule. “Our program goals are to be a regionally and nationally competitive team. I think we are getting there. We haven’t gotten over the hump of getting past the semi-finals of the conference tournament the last two years.”

The Bisons open the 2009 season at home Aug. 22 when Louisville, a Big East team, visits the Lipscomb campus. They will follow with another home game Sept. 1 when Berry College, an NAIA team, visits.

“We hope the Louisville games will develop into something we can have on our schedule on a regular basis,” said Morrow. “We don’t have many teams close to us to play. After Belmont the closest teams for us are Louisville and Alabama-Birmingham.”

Three tournaments are on the schedule. The Bisons will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 11-13, to play in the University of Michigan’s tournament. They will open against Michigan State, winner of both the regular season and tournament championships in the Big 10 last season. They play host Michigan in the second game. Both Michigan and Michigan State advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State was a surprise loser in the second round to Illinois-Chicago. Michigan advanced to the “Sweet 16”.

On Sept. 4 and 6 the Bisons make the short trip down the boulevard to play in Belmont’s tournament. The Bisons will face Marshall from Conference USA and Oral Roberts from The Summit League.

The Bisons will host the Hyatt Place Select Invitational Sept. 18 and 20. The Bisons will open with North Carolina-Asheville from the Big South and also play Alabama A&M. Belmont rounds out the four-team field.

The Bisons close out the non-conference portion of the schedule with a visit to Furman Sept. 25 and a stop at Wofford Sept. 27.

“Michigan, Michigan State and Louisville are obviously big name schools in high profile conferences that jump out at you,” said Morrow. “But Furman is always good and is traditionally a top 20 team. Alabama A&M is one of the more talented teams in the country. That will be a tough challenge for sure. Marshall and Oral Roberts are also two programs that have had success in the past at well.

“I feel good about the out-of-conference schedule and how it will prepare us for the conference. We don’t get at large bids to the NCAA Tournament. We believe in playing the best teams to prepare use for the conference tournament. That is the most important thing.”

The Bisons will play their first four games in Nashville and six of their first eight.

“We are in Nashville a lot,” said Morrow. “I like the fact we have so many home games. It is nice to start out at home.”

The Atlantic Sun portion of the season opens at home Oct. 1 against Campbell, which announced Thursday it was leaving the A-Sun for the Big South in 2010-11. The Bisons are seeking their third consecutive A-Sun Tournament berth under the direction of Morrow.

The Bisons will also play Mercer (Oct. 3), North Florida (Oct. 16), Jacksonville (Oct. 18) and Belmont Oct. 22 at home in conference games. The Belmont game is the regular season home finale with the winner receiving the game trophy to keep for a year.

“I would expect Jacksonville, which won the conference tournament, to be a favorite team to win it again,” said Morrow. “Campbell will be favored a lot. I would think we would be in the top three, but we are consistently under-rated. Every year I have been here we have finished higher than we were predicted to finish. I think our guys feed on being an underdog.”

Road games in the conference are Oct. 9 at Stetson, Oct. 11 at Florida Gulf Coast, Oct. 20 at ETSU and Nov. 1 at USC Upstate to end the regular season.

“I think the A-Sun as a whole has gotten better since I have been here,” said Morrow. “I definitely think the other coaches in the conference would agree with that. And I think that we have gotten better in the last four years or so as well.”

The Bisons lost to Jacksonville in the tournament semifinals in Buies Creek, N.C., in a shootout. They lost to Campbell, the regular season champion 4-3 after opening with a 3-0 lead.

“Certainly the margin of difference between the top teams and us has closed completely,” said Morrow. “I think we are well on our way to being a team that gets regional consideration.”

The A-Sun Tournament format has changed for the 2009 postseason. In the first round the four highest seeds will host games to determine the “Final Four” teams.