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Soccer teams expecting success this season

UNG womens soccer
UNG's Asa Thorsen celebrates a goal with teammates Dani Shartouny (4), Michaela Sundstrom (8) and Renee VanHorn, far left. The Nighthawks were picked No. 2 in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) women's and men's soccer teams are expecting big things this season, and the coaches of the Nighthawks' Peach Belt Conference (PBC) rivals tend to agree. Each group is a top-three conference pick.

The UNG women, coming off a share of the regular-season title in 2017, were picked No. 2 in the preseason PBC poll and collected a pair of first-place votes. They return four seniors from a group that tied Columbus State for first place a season ago. Columbus State is the preseason PBC favorite.

The UNG women, off to a 2-0 start after victories against Converse College and Anderson University, host Lee University at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at the UNG Soccer Complex in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Returning all-conference performers Renee VanHorn and Asa Thorsen, both seniors, and 2017 PBC Freshman of the Year Taylor Malasek were each selected to the preseason All-PBC team.

VanHorn led UNG with 14 goals, including four game-winners and three multi-goal games, in 2017 as the Nighthawks finished 12-4-2 overall and 8-2 in the PBC. Malasek tallied 12 goals and three assists as a freshman, and Thorsen had four goals, including the game-winner at West Georgia, and three assists. UNG women's soccer coach Chris Adams said VanHorn and Malasek are great scorers, but they're not the only threats on his team.

"What we've done is add some other firepower," Adams said. "People begin keying on them, and we need other people to step up."

The Nighthawks women's team made the NCAA tournament five out of six seasons before coming up short of the postseason in 2017 following a PBC semifinal loss to eventual conference champion University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Adams said getting back to the NCAA tournament is his team's goal.

"Those experienced players ended last year with a bad taste in their mouth," Adams said. "They have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder to prove they belong in that conversation."

Tabbed as No. 3 in the preseason PBC poll, the UNG men's team has a quartet of preseason All-PBC selections, most in the league. The Nighthawks return 10 seniors from a team that reached the PBC championship match for the first time in program history, falling 9-8 in penalty kicks to Lander.

UNG men's soccer head coach Patrice Parris said his team watched that championship contest at the start of fall practice to serve as fuel for this season.

"We can't live in the past, but the past can also motivate us. It can remind us of the pain we felt," Parris said. "It wasn't luck that we got there. We didn't execute in the penalty kicks. Here in 2018 we have another chance to make it right. Failure can be good. Now what are we going to do about it?"

UNG, off to an 0-1 start this season heading into a 5 p.m. Sept. 6 game with the University of Tampa in Morrow, Georgia, faces Anderson University at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the UNG Soccer Complex in its home opener. The Nighthawks lost 4-0 at No. 9 Palm Beach Atlantic in the Aug. 31 opener.

Senior midfielders Adam Farrell and Gabriel Garcia, senior forward Alex Grant and senior goalkeeper Matt Sharman were the preseason all-conference picks. Sharman was a first-team All-PBC honoree and Garcia a second-team performer in 2017. Grant had 10 goals, including three game-winners, and five assists last season for the Nighthawks.

UNG defeated then-No. 12 Young Harris 3-0 in the PBC semifinals as part of a 5-1-1 run in its final seven games in 2017. The Nighthawks finished with a 10-7-1 overall record and a 5-2 PBC mark.

Lander and Young Harris took the top two spots in the PBC preseason poll ahead of UNG, while they ranked 12th and 11th, respectively, in the preseason United Soccer Coaches Division II poll.

Parris said he is grateful for his senior leaders who helped turn the program around over the past few seasons. With this group's attacking style, Parris doesn't expect his guys to let up.

"They know that the expectations have to continue to be set at a high level to be an elite team," Parris said.

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