Blake DiSpigna, a Brookwood grad, and the Georgia Gwinnett College women’s soccer program open their second season playing five top-35 teams in their first seven matches. (Photo: GGC Athletics)
LAWRENCEVILLE — Five top-35 teams in the first seven games is one way to find out just how ready the Georgia Gwinnett College women are for their first season as a playoff-eligible program.
“We’re growing as a program and as you look at the competition level from last year to this year, it’s a drastic change,” head soccer coach Domenic Martelli said. “We had very good Division II teams on the schedule last year and very good NAIA teams on the schedule. But when you’re trying to get a schedule together in six months, a lot of the programs throughout the country, at any level, are already done.
“This year we were really able to bump up the value of the teams and the strength of schedule.”
The Grizzlies open the season Sunday at home against SCAD before going on the road Aug. 30 to play at Faulkner. Then it’s Virginia Intermont, Northwood, St. Thomas, Thomas and Auburn-Montgomery.
“We’re looking at some really good levels throughout the season so we have to be sharp each and every game,” Martelli said.
GGC was 10-7-1 in it’s inaugural 2012 campaign, but wasn’t playoff eligible. The team is now and, as host, guaranteed a spot in the Association of Independent Institutions championship tournament. It still needs to win that for a trip to the NAIA national championships, though.
“We have not taken anything for granted,” Martelli said. “Having that postseason carrot there, we’re going to fight and grow and continue to get better right up until the weekend of Nov. 15-16.”
Technically, the roster as a whole hasn’t changed a lot from last year, but Martelli will be able to make use of it in full this season. He had eight players on the roster that were ineligible for various reasons, from transfer to injury.
“When we’re looking at the players who have not played last year, both new and returning, we’re still looking at the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together,” Martelli said. “My biggest excitement is we have some really nice pieces. How we put that puzzle together, we’re going to be working on for the next couple of weeks.
“But are we going to be athletic? Are we going to be fit? Are we going to be great defensively as a team? We will.”
The Grizzlies have also added a former All-American and Canadian national team star to the coaching staff. Sharolta Nonen, who played in two World Cups as well as professionally in the U.S and overseas, is Martelli’s new assistant.
“Of course, her strength is with the back four, but she doesn’t stop on the defensive side of the ball,” Martelli said. “She’s very good with patterns and system of play and, really, coaching individually.
“When you are a head coach and you have assistant, for me to really sit back and really coach the larger picture. With Shay really being able to dissect some of the smaller parts of the game and coach individually, it will allow us to really get a lot done.”