JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Second-ranked Carson-Newman will open up the year against a ranked opponent for the first time in program history when they kick off the 2018 campaign against No. 10 West Florida on Friday afternoon at the Walden Soccer Complex. Columbus State hosts the invitational bringing in Embry-Riddle, Florida Tech, and Montevallo.
The Eagles are ranked No. 2 in the country by the United Soccer Coaches in the preseason polls, the highest a team in program history has ever been ranked to begin a season. The Eagles grabbed the spot in October of 2017 with the 2003 team being the previous high at No. 3.
"Columbus State's head coach reached out and asked if we were interested in coming in for opening weekend and I said we would love to," Duffy mentioned. "Then he dropped a bombshell on me that we would be playing himself and West Florida.
"If we want to get back to the Final Four and get to where we want to be, you're going to have to play these best teams. We're hoping that going up against opponents like this will make us better."
The Eagles and Argonauts faced off in the NCAA Quarterfinal at McCown Field in 2017 on Nov. 19 which sent C-N to the Final Four for the third time in its illustrious history. Magda Mosengo (London, England) tallied both of the Eagles goals in the 2-0 win as Jackie Burns (Cookstown, Northern Ireland) recorded her 11th and final clean sheet of the season. West Florida leads the series 1-3. C-N is 14-10-2 all-time against Gulf South Conference teams.
The Argonauts are led by longtime coach Joe Bartlinski who heads into his 18th season at the helm. He is one of the winningest coaches in the nation with a career record of 284-49-20 (.833). Adding to his resume, he has the seventh-best winning percentage of all-time at all NCAA levels and second-best among all Division II coaches. In the Gulf South Conference, Bartlinski holds a dominant record of 133-13-3 (.903). West Florida has won at least 15 games in 14 of the last 16 seasons.
"Joe is definitely very experienced and knows how to get his players moving," Duffy said. "We hope that we will be well versed and know what is expected of them. We hope it's a good outing for us."
Bartlinski's group comes off a 17-5-2 overall season in 2017 that earned the trip to the NCAA Quarterfinal after victories over North Alabama (3-0), Mississippi College (2-1), and Lee University which went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie through 110 minutes. The Argos prevailed 3-1 to oust the Flames.
Four players were named 2018 Preseason All-Gulf South Conference: Deneisha Blackwood (Sr.), Kayla Douglas (Jr.), Savanna Soares (Sr.), and Shantell Thompson (Sr.).
Blackwood led the team with nine goals in 2017 which included All-Region honors from both the USC and Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association. The second game of the weekend, UWF will be matched up with Florida Tech on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
No. 2 Carson-Newman will be put to the test early in the year with matchups against two ranked opponents over the weekend. However, Simon Duffy's group will return nine of its 11 starters in 2017.
The Eagles finished the 2017 regular season unbeaten for the first time in program history and ultimately remained unbeaten all year excluding penalty kicks. The record of 21-1-1 is also the most wins in the program's history as the Eagles outscored its opponents 72-12 and trailed for just a total of 42:44 out of a possible 2112 minutes.
Game time on Friday is slated for a 4:30 p.m. start. Follow along with @CNWSoccer and @CNAthletics for updates throughout the weekend.