GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University women's soccer team will play a 16-match regular season schedule during the 2018 season, head coach Mike Joy has announced.
The Pioneers are coming off a 10-7-1 season in 2017, which included a fourth-place finish in the South Atlantic Conference and a trip to the league semifinals. Tusculum reached double figures in wins for the 19th time in 21 seasons under Joy and finished in the top four in the conference for the 15th time.
Tusculum's 7-3-0 conference record marked the 18th time in 19 years that the Pioneers had a winning record in league play, with 11 of those seasons resulting in a winning percentage of .700 or better. The Pioneers were knocked out of the SAC Championship semifinals in overtime by eventual national runner-up Carson-Newman.
The Pioneers' 2018 schedule includes four games against Sunshine State Conference schools to open the year, and five contests against teams that participated in the NCAA Division II Tournament a year ago. Seven of the Pioneers' 16 games will be at home, where the team put together a 5-3-1 record last season and is 16-7-5 over the past three years.
Tusculum will open its season with the Pioneer Classic, hosting Nova Southeastern on Friday, August 31 and Palm Beach Atlantic on Sunday, Sept. 2. The Sharks of Nova Southeastern finished last season as the Sunshine State Conference champions with an 8-1-1 league record, and advanced to the NCAA second round before finishing the year with a 12-4-2 record. The Sharks have won two of the three all-time meetings with the Pioneers, including a 3-0 win in their only previous visit to Greeneville in the 2008 season opener.
The Pioneers will face Palm Beach Atlantic for the first time, as the Sailfish compiled a 3-9-1 overall record a year ago and placed 11th in the SSC with a 2-7-1 record. Alabama Huntsville will also be participating in the Pioneer Classic, playing PBA on Friday and Nova Southeastern on Sunday.
Tusculum will then head to Florida for games at Rollins on Friday, Sept. 7 and at Embry-Riddle on Sunday, Sept. 9. The Pioneers have never faced the Tars, who were 4-9-2 overall and 3-5-2 in the SSC last season, nor the Eagles, who went 5-5-3 overall and 3-4-3 in the SSC a year ago.
The Pioneers' SAC schedule will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at home against Queens. The Royals were 12-3-3 overall ad 8-2 in the SAC last season, finishing in a tie for second place in the league before being eliminated by Anderson in the SAC quarterfinals. Queens qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament and beat UNC Pembroke 1-0 in overtime in the first round before Carson-Newman knocked out the Royals by a 2-0 score in round two. Queens beat Tusculum 2-0 at home last season, but trails Tusculum 5-3-1 in the all-time series.
Tusculum will be home on Sunday, Sept. 16 to square off with Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears were 11-5-2 last season, but finished in fifth place in the conference with a 6-3-1 record. The teams met twice last season, with the Pioneers winning 2-1 on the road during the regular season and advancing in the SAC Championship quarterfinals on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw at Pioneer Field. Tusculum trails Lenoir-Rhyne 14-12-3 in the all-time series.
On Wednesday, Sept. 19 the Pioneers will step out of conference play with a trip to Banner Elk, North Carolina to face Lees-McRae. The Bobcats were sixth in Conference Carolinas with a 4-5-2 record and finished 5-12-3 overall, but made a run to the league finals before falling to Limestone 1-0 in the championship game. Tusculum won last year's meeting 2-0 at home but has lost seven of the 11 all-time meetings between the schools.
Conference play resumes on Saturday, Sept. 22 with a visit to Wingate. The Bulldogs tied for second place in the SAC with Queens at 8-2 and went 11-4-0 overall, including SAC Tournament wins over Catawba and Anderson before falling 4-0 to Carson-Newman in the championship game. The Bulldogs beat the Pioneers 3-1 in the regular-season finale last year to trim Tusculum's lead in the all-time series to 12-11-3.
The second half of the Pioneers' schedule starts following a week's break, as Catawba visits Pioneer Field on Saturday, Sept. 29. The Indians qualified for the SAC Championship after finishing in seventh place with a 4-6 record and 7-10-0 overall, but lost 4-1 to Wingate in the quarterfinals. The Indians fell 2-1 to the Pioneers at home in overtime last season, which evened the all-time series at nine wins apiece with four draws.
The month of October opens as the Pioneers travel south on Highway 11-E to face rival Carson-Newman. The Eagles turned in a remarkable season in 2017, winning the SAC regular-season and tournament championships before outscoring its opponents 12-1 in four NCAA Tournament games to advance to the finals. In the title game, the Eagles were less than a minute from completing an undefeated national championship season before allowing the tying goal to Central Missouri, which then outscored Carson-Newman 5-3 in penalty kicks to claim its own undefeated championship.
The Eagles beat the Pioneers 3-0 in Greeneville during the regular season, then needed overtime to dispatch the Pioneers 2-1 in the SAC Championship semifinals. Tusculum was one of only three teams to go to overtime against Carson-Newman last season, joining Lenoir-Rhyne (2-2 tie) and Central Missouri. Last year's victories left Tusculum with an 18-17-2 lead in the all-time series with Carson-Newman, which has won four straight meetings.
The Pioneers are scheduled to play five of their seven matches on the road during October, with the first of the two home games coming on Saturday, Oct. 6 against Newberry. The Wolves secured the eighth and final seed in the SAC tournament after going 3-7 in conference play, then were eliminated by Carson-Newman in the quarterfinals to finish 7-11-0 overall. The Wolves lost 2-1 at home to the Pioneers last season, which extended Tusculum's edge in the all-time series to a commanding 19-2-3 margin including three straight victories.
Another week-long break in the schedule precedes the Pioneers' visit to Anderson on Saturday, Oct. 13. The Pioneers and Trojans have had a highly-competitive series over the years, with Tusculum leading by a 6-4-3 margin and five of the meetings going to overtime. Last year, the Pioneers won 2-0 at home as the Trojans finished in sixth place in the SAC at 5-5 in the league and 6-9-2 overall, beating Queens in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals before falling to Wingate in the semifinals.
Tusculum's final three regular-season conference matches are against the three teams that missed the SAC Championship tournament last season, starting on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at Lincoln Memorial. The Railsplitters finished in ninth place in the league at 2-8 and went 7-10-0 overall, including a 1-0 loss in Greeneville in the conference opener. Tusculum leads the all-time series with LMU by a margin of 15-8-3.
The Pioneers' final home game of the regular season will be on Saturday, Oct. 20 against Mars Hill. The Lions tied with Coker for last place in the league at 1-9, and were 3-12-1 overall. The Pioneers are 23-5 all-time with the Lions, with a 3-0 road win last season extending Tusculum's winning streak over Mars Hill to seven in a row, including five straight shutouts.
The final week of the regular season begins with the final step out of conference play, as Tusculum heads to Columbus State to face the Cougars. Columbus State tied for first place in the Peach Belt Conference last year at 8-2, then lost to UNC Pembroke in the league finals. The Cougars earned an NCAA Tournament berth, where they were eliminated in the third round by Carson-Newman by a 6-0 score. Columbus State was ranked eighth in the country when it came to Tusculum last year and picked up a 4-0 win to extend its lead in the all-time series to 6-3.
The regular season will close on Saturday, Oct. 27 at Coker. The Cobras were tied with Mars Hill at 1-9 in conference action, and went 3-11-1 overall. Tusculum scored a season-high in goals in a 6-0 victory over Coker at home last season, and the Pioneers have won all five meetings since the Cobras joined the league for the 2013 season.
The top eight teams in the regular-season standings will qualify for the SAC Championship tournament, which begins on Tuesday, Oct. 30 with quarterfinal matchups at campus sites. The four remaining teams will meet in the semifinals at Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill, South Carolina on Friday, Nov. 2 with the championship match on Sunday, Nov. 4.
The NCAA Division II Women's Soccer Championship will begin with first and second-round action on November 9 and 11, followed by third round and quarterfinal contests from November 15-18. The semifinals will be on Thursday, November 29 and the championship on Saturday, December 1, both in Pittsburgh.