A year ago, both Georgia Gwinnett soccer teams were finished.
NAIA rules prohibit first-year teams from postseason play, leaving the inaugural teams watching even the conference tournament. Fast forward a year and both teams not only qualified for the Association of Independent Institutions conference soccer tournaments, GGC plays host to the event.
“It says a lot, not only for the institution, but for (athletic director) Dr. (Darin) Wilson and the athletic department to be able to win the big to be able to host a major conference tournament, not only for women, but for the men and women,” GGC head women’s soccer coach Domenic Martelli said.
Head men’s coach Steve DeCou said he remember sitting at home a year ago.
“We go from a year and a half ago, nothing, playing a season that didn’t mean anything,” DeCou said. “To say we are thrilled is probably an understatement.”
The first season’s success helped GGC win the bid for this year’s tournament and because of some of the crowds drawn for the women’s game, GGC opted to make the women’s matches this year’s showcases.
“It says a lot about the community,” Martelli said. “They are going to get to see some great soccer.”
The tournament begins Friday with a 10 a.m. men’s match with last year’s runner-up Ashford, the top seed and No. 3 nationally-ranked team, taking on No. 4-seeded Lindenwood-Belleville. The No. 3-seeded GGC men play 2011 champion and No. 2 seed Cal State San Marcos.
“They are very simliar to a lot of our opponents,” DeCou said of San Marcos. “We think we are going to be ready from a preparation standpoint. We are just looking forward to getting after it.”
GGC’s men enter this weekend’s tournament unranked but receiving votes in the coaches poll. The Grizzlies men have won six straight matches, outscoring opponents 11-2 in that stretch.
“The question mark with us is going to be the postseason,” DeCou said. “We are not a battle-tested group with regards to that.”
The concern of lack of experience in postseason play at the collegiate level transfers equally to the women’s team, which also comes to the tournament on a six-game winning streak.
“When you are at the other schools you have traditions. We don’t have that,” Martelli said. “Ignorance is bliss in some cases.”
Like the men, the women are also the No. 3 seed, taking on last year’s runner-up and No. 2-seeded San Marcos at 7 p.m. on Friday. Defending champion and top-seeded Ashford’s women take on Lindenwood-Belleville in the 4 p.m. match.
Both coached said this week is a balancing act between tempering the anticipation and maintaining the team’s focus. But the two agree reaching postseason play is the next step in the development of the programs.
“That carrot of a conference tournament (was motivation all season),” Martelli said. “They have all played for high school championships, club championships, but when we look at this (tournament), how great is it going to be if they can do it together? This just fits right into what is next.”
• What: The Association of Independent Institutions men’s and women’s soccer championships
• Where: Georgia Gwinnett College soccer complex
• Tickets: $7 for adults, $5 for students, children, seniors and active-duty military, 5-and-under admitted free
10 a.m. — No. 1 Ashford men vs. No. 4 Lindenwood-Belleville
1 p.m. — No. 2 Cal State San Marcos men vs. No. 3 Georgia Gwinnett
4 p.m. — No. 1 Ashford women vs. No. 4 Lindenwood-Belleville
7 p.m. — No. 2 Cal State San Marcos women vs. No. 3 Georgia Gwinnett
4 p.m. — Men’s final
7 p.m. — Women’s final