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Bigger, faster Grizzlies gear up for tougher second season

Georgia Gwinnett College’s Andres Molano lines up a shot in a game last year. The Grizzlies open their second season Friday at home against Thomas. (Photo: GGC Athletics)

Georgia Gwinnett College’s Andres Molano lines up a shot in a game last year. The Grizzlies open their second season Friday at home against Thomas. (Photo: GGC Athletics)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Coming off a successful inaugural season, head coach Steve DeCou needed his Georgia Gwinnett College men’s soccer team to be two things: bigger and faster.

DeCou and his staff did that, scouring the globe and adding to an already talented roster for this year.

“We’re a very technical group, but with increasing the team speed, we’re going to cause teams a lot of trouble,” DeCou said.

Being a bit on the small side also left the Grizzlies at a disadvantage on set pieces a bit.

“I feel we’ve addressed those two issues,” DeCou said.

GGC, which went 14-2-2 last season, has 13 returning and 13 new players. Among the additions are 6-foot-6 goalkeeper Lewis Sharpe, who came over from Newcastle, England. He’s replacing Greg Hartley, who backstopped last year’s team and is now on DeCou’s coaching staff.

Ruud Grol, from Holland, is a center back expected to anchor the back line.

The Grizzlies will have to account for the loss of Tom Butler up front. Butler, also now on staff, scored a staggering 28 goals to lead the team last season. To that end, DeCou brought in two more overseas players, Erik Espeland out of Norway and Josh McGonigal out of Scotland.

“Really the reason we do that, those type of positions, if they’re an American player, they’re getting snapped up by big-time teams like Clemson and Indiana,” DeCou said. “That’s why, for those, we have to go overseas.”

DeCou tapped his resources in the United Kingdom and also sent assistant Kevin May on scouting trips to Nigeria, Trinidad and Germany during the offseason.

“At the NAIA level, the top teams tend to have more international flavor,” DeCou said. “When I got here, that was one of the points the administration made — they wanted an international feel.”

The Grizzlies have good returning pieces, a number of them local, including Berkmar grad Martin Lugo, who had 11 goals and 26 points for the team as a freshman last year.

“We’re excited to get it going and it’s for real this time,” DeCou said.

GGC wasn’t eligible for playoffs last season. The Grizzlies are not only eligible now, they’re guaranteed a spot as host of the Association of Independent Institutions championship tournament. But they’ll still need to win that to earn a spot in the NAIA national tourney.

The Grizzlies will be put to the test from the start. DeCou had time this year to arrange a difficult schedule and made the most of it.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, last season (the schedule) was a 2,” DeCou said. “This season is about a 7.5.

“We’re not going to have the level of competition we did last year. The record was nice, but there were really only a handful of games where we were tested like we will be this season.”

The season starts Friday night with GGC’s own tournament. The Grizzlies play Thomas at 7 p.m. Also participating are Auburn-Montgomery and Milligan.