HARROGATE, Tenn. — Looking to get started off on the right foot, the Railsplitters travel to Columbus, Ga., this weekend for a pair of regional matches with early postseason implications at the Columbus State University Collegiate Invitational. Lincoln Memorial kicks off the season against Alabama-Huntsville on Friday at 2:30 p.m., and then takes on Shorter on Sunday at noon.
The overall success of a season cannot be determined by the outcome of the opening weekend of play, but the Railsplitters learned last season that it can lead to disappointment. Lincoln Memorial did not earn a bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional in 2013 despite finishing with a 9-8-2 record that included wins over perennial region contenders Montevallo, Carson-Newman (NCAA National Championship runner-up) and Anderson. That was due in large part to back-to-back overtime losses to Eckerd and Alabama-Huntsville on the first weekend of play.
The Railsplitters’ 3-2 loss to the Chargers was likely the most gut-wrenching of the two, as Lincoln Memorial jumped out to a 2-0 lead late in the second half before relinquishing that advantage via Charger goals in the 81st and 83rd minutes. UAH put in the game-winner in the 99th minute to score the 3-2 come-from-behind victory. The Railsplitters won’t have to wait long to seek redemption for that heartbreak, drawing the Chargers in the season-opener.
Alabama-Huntsville capped the 2013 campaign with a 10-7-1 overall mark and an 8-6 tally in Gulf South Conference play. The Chargers benefit from the return of four preseason All-GSC selections, including senior forward Kyle Simmons. Simmons paced UAH in scoring, ranking among the best in the nation in 2013 with 15 goals and three assists. The 5-11 striker was responsible for two of UAH’s three goals in that win over the Railsplitters last fall, including the game-winner in overtime. The Chargers also welcome back sophomore midfielder Ryo Suzuki, the reigning GSC Freshman of the Year. Suzuki appeared in all 18 matches for the Chargers last season. UAH also returns defenders Andrew Ingram and Leo De Smedt.
Just two days later, the Railsplitters saddle up for another match-up against a Gulf South Conference foe, squaring off against the Shorter Hawks. Nearly identical to the Chargers, Shorter completed the 2013 campaign with a 10-7-2 overall record and an 8-5-1 GSC ledger. Headed by former Lincoln Memorial assistant coach Paulo Neto, Shorter has never faced off with the Railsplitters in regular-season action.
The Hawks boast a formidable scoring attack with three of its top four goal scorers from a season ago returning to the pitch. Headlining that trio is striker Robert Ochieng, who led Shorter with 10 goals and a pair of assists in 2013. Preseason All-GSC honoree Irvin Espinal gives the Hawks some extra offensive oomph as he looks to build upon a five-goal, six-assist junior campaign. Lucas Cavenco is also back after accumulating four goals and an assist in 18 appearances last season. Defensively, the Hawks return goalkeeper Nicolas Ferrigno.
— The Railsplitters are 8-3 in season-openers since coach Helio D’Anna took over the program prior to the start of the 2003 season. Lincoln Memorial has, however, dropped two of its last three season-opening matches.
— Since advancing to the NCAA Division II Championship final in 2007, the Railsplitters are 1-6-1 in neutral site affairs including an 0-3 mark in 2013.
— Lincoln Memorial is 9-13 in the all-time series against the Chargers, which dates back to the 1989 season. Prior to LMU’s stunning overtime loss last season, the blue and gray accumulated a six-match winning streak from 2004-12.
— Senior goalkeeper Marcel Barwanietz enters the season ranked seventh in school history with 125 career saves. With 75 stops this season, Barwanietz would become only fourth player in school history with 200 plus saves. Senior Yuri Passos is 10th all-time with 4,320 career minutes played.