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Big South: Longwood men’s soccer looking forward to new conference rivalries

Longwood University men’s soccer head coach Jon Atkinson has announced the team’s complete schedule for the upcoming 2012 season. The schedule features eight home contests, which will be played at the Lancers’ Athletics Complex in Farmville, in addition to 10 road matches.

“We’re looking forward to the new season and to the Big South rivalries,” said Atkinson, who is entering his eighth year at the helm of the Lancers’ program, in a news release. “We’ve always played Big South teams, but now to actually play them with a conference affiliation gives the games a bit more meaning that is going to resonate throughout the program and we’re excited about that.”

Following a pair of exhibition matches scheduled for Monday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. against William and Mary, and Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. at Virginia Wesleyan, Longwood will kick off the 2012 regular season with three-straight Big South Conference matchups. The Lancers open the season with road matches at Coastal Carolina on Friday, August 24, at 2:30 p.m. and at Presbyterian on Tuesday, August 28, at 5 p.m. before hosting Liberty for the team’s home opener on Saturday, September 1, at 7 p.m.

“With the Big South component, we get off to a pretty hectic start, with the first three games being conference opponents, but that’s just the way the schedule fit in,” Atkinson said. “It’s a strange dichotomy because usually a conference affiliation brings the catch net of ‘it’s how you finish not how you start,’ but really this year is unique because it is about how we start, since all the conference games come right out of the gate. Hopefully we can time the season so we can go on a run and surprise some teams.”

Other Big South Conference home matches include VMI (September 12, 7 p.m.), Gardner-Webb (September 22, 7 p.m.), Campbell (September 26, 6 p.m.) and Radford (October 3, 7 p.m.). In addition, the Lancers will also travel to Big South opponents UNC Asheville (September 9, 2:30 p.m.), High Point (September 15, 7 p.m.) and Winthrop (October 31, 7 p.m.). The Big South Tournament will feature eight teams and four quarterfinal matches held at the higher seed’s facility on November 6, followed by semifinal and championship matches on November 9 and 11, respectively, hosted by Radford University at Bryan Park in Greensboro, N.C.

“Our goal is first and foremost to get in the conference tournament, and from then on in, we will take every game as it comes,” explained Atkinson. “Because we start with five Big South games out of our first seven, we hope to set the pace for the other teams by getting some points in the bag to solidify a conference tournament berth.”

In addition to playing its first-ever Big South Conference schedule, Longwood will also play several tough out-of-conference matchups, as well. Home non-conference opponents include UNC Greensboro (September 4, 7 p.m.), Virginia Tech (October 9, 7 p.m.) and Navy (October 23, 7 p.m.), while LU is scheduled to travel to Richmond (September 18, 7 p.m.), George Washington (September 29, 1 p.m.), George Mason (October 6, 7 p.m.), Belmont (October 13, 5:30 p.m.) and American (October 17, 3 p.m.).

“The schedule has always been tough,” said Atkinson. “There is no easy game in a Division I sport in general, and especially in the men’s soccer program, so we’re definitely going to be tested, but I think that’s the only way we can improve as a program.”

Last year, the Lancers won the Atlantic Soccer Conference Tournament and finished the 2011 season with an 11-6-3 overall record, marking the squad’s first winning season since Longwood began its NCAA Division I Reclassification period in 2003. LU returns 16 letterwinners, including four starters from last year’s championship team. Coach Atkinson, who has compiled a record of 48-65-22 during his seven-year tenure, has also added 11 newcomers to the 2012 roster.

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