NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the highly anticipated 2014 season just days away, the Lipscomb men’s soccer team received plenty of recognition Friday when the Atlantic Sun Conference released its 2014 Preseason Awards.
For the first time in program history the Bisons were picked to finish atop the league standings alongside three-time defending A-Sun champions Florida Gulf Coast with 43 votes. However, Lipscomb edged out the Eagles receiving three first-place votes to FGCU’s two.
Coach Charles Morrow, reigning A-Sun Coach of the Year, doesn’t believe that being picked to win the league adds any more pressure to his team to succeed.
“First and foremost I don’t think there is any greater pressure than what we put on ourselves to succeed individually,” Morrow said. “I think we have a very good team. We are more talented than we have ever been. The culture hasn’t necessarily changed, but the expectations have.
“Pressure and expectations can be a good thing and also a bad thing. It depends on your outlook and how you view it. Time and experience play a big role when dealing with pressure and I like that we have a large part of our team that does have experience in dealing with pressure.
“There is a stronger belief this season than we probably have ever had here at Lipscomb. In years past we have had teams that thought they could have won the league, but I truly believe this team thinks they should win.”
North Florida and Northern Kentucky were selected to finish third with 31 votes and one first-place vote apiece. Jacksonville (27), Stetson (12) and USC Upstate (9) round out the preseason standings.
Picking up right where he left off last season, senior Omar Djabi was tabbed Preseason Co-Player of the Year with FGCU’s, Rodrigo Saravia.
Djabi nabbed the A-Sun Player of the Year in 2013 after leading the conference in goals (9), points (21) and game-winning goals (4). It was the first time a Bison had ever won the honor.
To solidify the type of talent this year’s team brings back is senior defender Luke Gearin grabbing the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Gearin anchored a Bison defense in 2013 that recorded a league-best seven shutouts and allowed the second-fewest goals in the league last season (20).
“I am really happy to see Luke get Defensive Player of the Year,” Morrow said. “I thought he was underrated last season, just making second team All-Conference. He was one of our better and most consistent players.
“Just what he brings in leadership alone is huge for us. To see him get that award on the front end is great for him and he is well deserving.”
Junior forward Reece Holcombe joins Djabi and Gearin to round out the Bison trio on the Preseason All-Conference Team. The Birmingham, Alabama native was selected second team All-Conference last season after scoring two goals, including a game-winner at Missouri State.
“It is exciting for our guys to be acknowledged for their past performances,” Morrow said. “But the most important thing comes at the end of the year, not just with honors, but with the poll and how we finish. Our guys are more concerned with how we finish as a group than any individual award.
“These three guys have received awards in the past and they all are deserving this season.”
Last season saw an influx of freshmen grabbing starting positions and a talented returning group to lead the Bisons to a 9-9-2 overall record and a third-place finish in the final standings. The season came to a disappointing end in the semifinals of the league tournament.
It was the fifth time in the past seven seasons that Lipscomb’s season ended one game short of the championship. Morrow believes the experience returning this season after losing just three players in 2013, will be the key in getting his team over the hump.
“Certainly experience has a large part in our belief that we can get over the hump,” Morrow said. “Our goals are pretty specific in we want to win the conference and reach the NCAA tournament. It’s more about meeting daily goals and the performance of how we approach training and the other little things that we believe, in the end, will put us where we want to be.”
The season begins Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Bisons host arch-rival Belmont in the soccer version of the ‘Battle of the Boulevard’ in an exhibition match at the Lipscomb Soccer Complex.