JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — The Carson-Newman college men's soccer team has won three consecutive South Atlantic Conference titles and seven out of the last eight. So, needless to say the team was a little perturbed when the preseason coaches' poll was released, predicting they would finish fourth in the conference.
After seeing the poll, first-year head coach Richard Moodie had a question for his team.
"I asked the guys, 'Is this about me or is this about you?'" Moodie said. "Surely a coaching change can't be that drastic when all the guys stick around. These guys are going to want to come in and prove a point."
The Eagles will get a chance to begin to answer their critics on the field this week when they host Milligan College in the season opener on the new McCown Field at 7 p.m.
Moodie has big shoes to fill at C-N this season, replacing his own former coach and mentor Allen Vital. Vital left the Eagles to coach SAC-rival Tusculum.
Moodie, who hails from Stenhousemuir, Scotland, has been part of all but two of C-N's SAC titles over the last eight seasons. He was a player on the 2003-2005 teams that captured three straight SAC crowns, then from 2006-2008 he was an assistant coach under Vital.
"It's an honor and a privilege (to coach at C-N)," Moodie said. "There's no one that loves Carson-Newman soccer as much as me. That's the reason I came over to America. I would never have applied for this job if I didn't think I could do it."
Moodie's first challenge once named the head coach was keeping the players already on the team and let them know that the winning tradition that brought them to Carson-Newman would continue.
"When I took over in February, the most important thing was to re-recruit the guys that were already here," Moodie said. "To make sure they were buying into my philosophy and what I was trying to do with the program."
Those returning players include three preseason All-SAC selections, senior forward Robert Hill (Middlesbrough, England), senior defender Anthony Chiappetta (Morristown, Tenn.) and junior midfielder Matt Craine (Morristown, Tenn.). The Eagles have lost All-SAC junior forward Emmanuel Aboagye (Ghana) this season due to an ACL tear suffered in the spring.
Any hole on the team will be filled with the 17 new Eagles Moodie has brought in, including transfers and freshmen that will have an immediate impact.
Moodie will look to freshman Joao Pedro Dowsley (Brazil) to take over for Aboagye at forward, and split time with junior forward Jared Prall (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.).
The biggest chance for the Eagles will be the absence of since-graduated Jordan Moore in-goal. Replacing Moore is senior Michael Alley (Kingsport, Tenn.). Alley played behind
Moore for the last three seasons and Moodie expects him to turn some heads quickly.
"He (Alley) has not had a chance to show what he's got," Moodie said. "We're looking forward to getting him into goal. He's been waiting for his opportunity. Nobody knows who he is, but I can guarantee you he'll be one of the top goalkeepers in the conference."
Alley, along with Craine and Hill are team captains this season.
Most of the talented 17-member class hails from parts of Tennessee. Moodie made it a priority to lock down the state and keep its best players close to home, adding to the local players Vital had recruited in previous years. Of the Eagles' 31-man roster, 19 are in-state student-athletes.
"We went after some depth on the squad and brought in some new faces that can not only impact the program this year, but in years to come," Moodie said. "We're hoping to build something long term. It's been an interesting start."
That start for the Eagles comes with a challenge from the SAC coaches, one they've happily accepted. How many times will a defending conference champion enter the season as an underdog?
"We would never have it any other way," Moodie said. "When they walk in the door every day, on the board they see, 'You are fourth in the conference.' It just fuels the fire."