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GGC soccer teams ready for historic debuts Saturday

Georgia Gwinnett College

Georgia Gwinnett College

GGC OPENERS

Who: Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies vs. Tennessee Temple Crusaders

What: Georgia Gwinnett's inaugural soccer games, sporting events

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. (women), 3 p.m. (men)

Where: Grizzly Soccer Field next to student housing on GGC campus in Lawrenceville

More info: grizzlyathletics.com

It has been six years and one week since Georgia Gwinnett College welcomed its first students. On Saturday, GGC officially becomes an athletic institution.

The Grizzlies' men's and women's soccer teams will play a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. at the school's intramural fields on the campus in Lawrenceville. The women will kick off two hours before the men, both facing Tennessee Temple of Chattanooga, Tenn.

"It's going to be exciting," men's head coach Steve DeCou said. "Six months of the work we've put in sitting at a desk -- I get to do what I love, coaching. But I'm not a desk jockey. That's one thing I learned from this past spring with no team to coach.

"We're excited about the opportunity that the university and (GGC president Daniel) Kaufman and (Director of Athletics Darin) Wilson have given us. It's exciting to get it going."

Saturday's games are the result of nearly two years of planning by GGC officials.

"This kickoff has been a long time in the making and is the result of hard work from a lot of committed people," Wilson said. "We are thrilled about what lies ahead for our programs, and we can't wait to finally see our student-athletes in action in Grizzly green and gray."

Both rosters are stocked with players with prep school ties to Gwinnett County. The men's team has six players connected to the county, while the women's roster boasts 15.

"Being in Gwinnett myself the last 12 years, I've had a really good grip on the players of Gwinnett County," women's head coach Domenic Martelli said. "When I was able to pursue this opportunity with the school, they had also seen the same thing. (The players) have seen the opportunity to come to school here, play for me, being a part of something new, starting a program. So they have all been excited."

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Game day parking is available from the Walther Boulevard side of the GGC campus, off Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road or Ga. Highway 316. Turn onto Tree Creek Boulevard from Walther Boulevard. Take the first left into campus and then take the first right to the parking lot at the top of the hill. After parking, walk toward the residence halls. You will see the soccer field to the right.

Martelli said even as more people from elsewhere hear about the college, the school still will have a base of local players because of the county's history of talent.

"I think just like the population of the school overall it's going to be Gwinnett-heavy," he said. "But I think once the name gets out, once the season has gotten started, we'll be able to recruit pretty much from everywhere. But we want to have that base in Gwinnett County because it is such a good soccer county, both men and women."

DeCou said some leadership has come in preseason from Greg Hartley, a senior from Manchester, England, with experience in the Manchester City program, a club that just won the English Premier League championship.

"He's constantly barking orders back there," DeCou said. "If we have one issue, I would say it's we're too quiet in the field. Maybe (senior forward Tom) Butler (is vocal). But that's one of the things we've got to work on."

Martelli has high leadership hopes for his captains, Mill Creek grad Jessica Beasley and Winder native Jocelyn Baker. But Baker, a junior, is likely out for the season with an ACL injury she suffered while playing for the Georgia Revolution, meaning Beasley, a freshman, will have to lead on the pitch.

Other injuries and some eligibility issues have limited some players' preseason time. Martelli said his team should perform well against Tennessee Temple but may have trouble in its second game just a day later.

"With the numbers we have and the quality players throughout the team, I think we're going to have a quality result (in the opener)," Martelli said. "It's Sunday when we play Northwood from Florida (when depth may be a problem). They were the 14th-ranked team last year at the end of the season."

The Grizzlies will compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which includes nearby schools such as Brenau, Southern Polytechnic State, Truett-McConnell and Life University.

Home games will be played this year at the Grizzly Soccer Field adjacent to campus housing. A few hundred bleacher seats are available, but fans are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets to use on a small hill overlooking the field. The home is temporary until a $13.5 million varsity athletics complex on campus is completed.

Kaufman will commemorate both games and conduct pregame coin tosses Saturday.