GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum women's soccer team has unveiled its 2017 schedule, head coach Mike Joy announced.
The Pioneers will face a challenging schedule this season, with four matches against teams that won their respective conference tournament championships. Five of the Pioneers' 18 games will be against opponents that advanced to national tournament action, with nine contests with teams that finished with winning records.
Tusculum's eight-game non-conference schedule includes two first-time opponents and five teams that finished in the top four in their league standings. Seven of the eight non-conference opponents were not on the Pioneer schedule a year ago. The Pioneers will play 10 South Atlantic Conference matches and eight contests at Pioneer Field, where the team compiled a 7-2-2 record a year ago.
The Pioneers finished with a 10-5-3 overall record and earned a share of their fifth all-time South Atlantic Conference championship with an 8-2-1 league record. Joy, who is the dean of SAC women's soccer coaches, enters his 21st season with the Pioneers with a record of 251-121-34, including a 94-47-15 mark in conference games. His 337 overall wins are fifth-best in NCAA Division II history.
Tusculum kicks off its season with a two-game road swing through Alabama, beginning on Friday, Sept. 1 with the Pioneers' first-ever meeting with West Alabama. The Tigers finished 11-7-1 overall last season and in fourth place in the Gulf South Conference with an 8-3-1 league record, before falling in the conference tournament semifinals.
On Sunday, Sept. 3 the Pioneers will visit Alabama-Huntsville for a second straight season. The Chargers defeated the Pioneers 2-0 last season in the teams' first meeting since 1999, as Tusculum had won all four prior matchups in the series.
Tusculum will play its home opener on Wednesday, Sept. 6 against Tennessee Wesleyan in the first meeting between the schools since 1999. The Tigers won the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament championship after finishing fourth in the regular season with a 6-3-1 record, then lost in the first round of the NAIA Tournament to finish with an overall record of 13-6-2. The Pioneers won five of the nine meetings between the teams in the 1990s.
Another first-time opponent looms as Tusculum heads to Milledgeville, Georgia for a pair of matches, as Palm Beach Atlantic will face the Pioneers on Friday, Sept. 8. The Sailfish are coming off a 5-9-1 season in 2016 and went 2-6-1 against Sunshine State Conference opponents in their final year as a provisional member of the league.
On Sunday, Sept. 10 the Pioneers will square off with Georgia College, which went 7-8-1 overall last season and took ninth place in the Peach Belt Conference with a 4-8 league record. The Pioneers have won two of the three all-time meetings with the Bobcats, most recently a 1-0 victory in 2015.
Tusculum plays its SAC opener on Wednesday, Sept. 13 against Lincoln Memorial at Pioneer Field. The Pioneers defeated the Railsplitters 2-0 last season, as LMU finished the year with a 3-10-2 overall record and 2-7-2 in the conference for a 10th-place finish. Tusculum leads the all-time series between the schools 14-8-3.
A trip to Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday, Sept. 16 will match up two of the three schools that shared the SAC championship a year ago. The Bears finished 8-2-1 in the league, tied with Tusculum and Lenoir-Rhyne, and earned the top seed in the SAC Championship tournament via tiebreaker. The Bears lost in the SAC semifinals to Wingate but earned a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament, where they were eliminated by Armstrong State in the first round to finish with a 13-5-2 record. In last year's meeting, the Pioneers scored in the final minute to earn a 2-2 draw at Pioneer Field. Lenoir-Rhyne leads the all-time series between the teams 14-11-2.
Tusculum will go back on the road on Wednesday, Sept. 20 for a trip to Queens University of Charlotte. The Royals tied for fourth place in the SAC standings at 8-3 and were eliminated by Wingate in the conference tournament quarterfinals to finish with an overall record of 10-7. The Pioneers were a 2-1 winner over the Royals in last year's meeting, and own a 5-2-1 edge in the all-time series.
The Pioneers close out the first half of their schedule on Saturday, Sept. 23 against Anderson. The Pioneers beat the Trojans 1-0 on the road in the regular season, but Anderson got revenge in the SAC Championship quarterfinals by winning 4-2 in penalty kicks after the teams played to a scoreless draw. It was the second time that the Trojans have knocked the Pioneers out of the SAC tournament on penalty kicks, and the fourth time that Anderson has beaten Tusculum in extra time since joining the league in 2010. The Pioneers hold a 6-4-3 lead in the all-time series.
After a week off, Tusculum will make a two-game swing through South Carolina starting on Saturday, Sept. 30 with a visit to Newberry. The Pioneers beat the Wolves 1-0 in double overtime last season on a goal by Payton DeHart. Newberry went 7-11-1 overall last season and finished eighth in the conference at 4-6-1, before falling 4-1 to Lenoir-Rhyne in the conference tournament quarterfinals. Tusculum has the all-time series lead over Newberry by a margin of 18-2-3.
The Pioneers will then head to Gaffney, South Carolina to play Limestone on Monday, Oct. 2 in the first meeting between the schools in 25 years. The Saints won the Conference Carolinas regular-season and tournament championships and earned a spot in the NCAA Division II Tournament, where they lost to Carson-Newman 2-0 in the first round. Limestone went 18-2 overall and 11-0 in the conference last season. The only prior meeting between the Pioneers and Saints came on Oct. 16, 1992 when Tusculum beat Limestone by a score of 6-0.
Tusculum will return home for five of its final seven matches, starting on Wednesday, Oct. 4 against Lees-McRae. The Bobcats were 7-12 last season and went 6-5 in Conference Carolinas, earning a fourth-place finish in the league before being eliminated in the tournament semifinals. The Pioneers' last meeting with the Bobcats was a 4-1 Tusculum victory in 2014, which cut Lees-McRae's all-time lead in the series to 7-3.
On Sunday, Oct. 8 the Pioneers will host Coker to open a stretch of four straight conference matches. The Cobras compiled a 2-11 overall record last season and went 1-10 in the conference, including a 2-0 loss to the Pioneers. Tusculum leads the all-time series by a 4-2 margin, including four wins in as many meetings since Coker joined the SAC in 2013.
The Pioneers will travel across the mountain to square off with Mars Hill on Friday, Oct. 13. The Pioneers beat the Lions 1-0 last season to extend their all-time lead in the series to 22-5. Last year, Mars Hill went 6-10-1 overall and finished ninth in the SAC at 3-8 in league play.
Tusculum will renew its rivalry with Carson-Newman on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Pioneer Field. The Eagles shared the SAC regular-season championship with Lenoir-Rhyne and Tusculum, and went on to claim the SAC Championship title with a victory over Wingate in the finals. The Eagles beat Limestone in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to North Georgia in round two, to finish 17-4-1 overall and 8-2-1 in the SAC. Last year, the Eagles beat the Pioneers 4-2 in Jefferson City to cut Tusculum's lead in the all-time series to 18-15-2.
The final road match of the regular season will be at Catawba on Saturday, Oct. 21. The Pioneers defeated the Indians 2-0 in last year's meeting, as Catawba finished in seventh place with a 6-8-3 overall record and 5-4-2 in conference games. The Indians, who lost to Carson-Newman in the opening round of the SAC Championship tournament, lead the all-time series with the Pioneers by a 9-8-4 margin.
The Pioneers begin the final week of the regular season with a home match on Tuesday, Oct. 24 against perennial regional power Columbus State. The Cougars qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight season in 2016, advancing to the Final Four for the second consecutive year before being eliminated by Grand Valley State in the semifinals. Columbus State has gone 64-7-2 over the past three seasons and 32-1-1 in Peach Belt Conference matches over that span, winning the regular-season and conference tournament championship all three years. The Cougars defeated the Pioneers 6-1 in their last meeting in 2014 and lead the all-time series 5-3.
Tusculum closes out the regular season on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Pioneer Field against Wingate. The Bulldogs made their seventh consecutive appearance in the SAC Championship tournament finals in 2016, falling to Carson-Newman in the title match. Wingate had its string of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances come to an end, but finished the year with a 12-6-1 overall record and tied for fourth in the SAC at 8-3. Wingate beat Tusculum 2-0 in last year's regular-season finale, but the Pioneers still lead the all-time series 12-10-3.
The SAC Championship tournament will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 31 with quarterfinal games hosted by the four highest seeds in the eight-team field. The semifinals will be played at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill, South Carolina on Friday, Nov. 3 with the championship match scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 5.
The NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Tournament will open the weekend of Nov. 9-12 with first and second-round matches, with third round and quarterfinal matches to be played the weekend of Nov. 16-19. The Final Four will be played at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Missouri, with the semifinals on Nov. 30 and the championship match on Dec. 2.