By Mark Edwards, Sports Editor, The Decatur Daily
The NAIA Women’s Soccer Championships kicked off Sunday evening with a banquet at Burningtree Country Club. Vanguard (Calif.) players Heather Mauck, left, and Kerri Currier, middle, laugh with head coach Randy Dodge.
Soccer in the South?
Actually, the world’s most popular sport is a powerful game at NAIA colleges and universities based in the South, where football, spring football and football recruiting occupy a large chunk of the public interest.
It’s fitting that the NAIA is bringing its women’s soccer championships to Decatur, and not just because of the laser-graded fields at the Jack Allen Soccer Complex.
When the NAIA tournament begins Monday at Jack Allen, the 16-team bracket will include several Southern teams, and they’re not just filling out the bracket.
Lindsey Wilson of Kentucky is seeded first, while Lee of Tennessee is second. Other Southern teams in the bracket include fifth-seeded William Carey (Miss.), No. 7 Martin Methodist (Tenn.), No. 10 Northwood (Fla.) and No. 14 Auburn-Montgomery.
The last five NAIA champions have come from the South — Lindsey Wilson in 2004 and ’06, Martin Methodist in 2005 and ’07 and Lee last year.
Since the championships began in 1984, the list of winners also includes Mobile once and Berry (Ga.) and Lynn (Fla.) three times each.
Lee coach Matt Yelton said it’s necessary for his program and other Southern NAIA powers to get solid support from their administrations, including a willingness to build a winning team.
“With West Coast schools, there’s a lot of talent out there for them to pick from,” Yelton said. “For schools like Martin, Lindsey Wilson and us, we have to do our recruiting a little wider.
“You can’t do that without your administration supporting you. ... We get the support that is the same as some mid-level Division I programs.”
While the rosters listed on the Web sites of third-seeded California Baptist and fourth-seeded Azusa Pacific (Calif.) show they are dominated by California-based players, the rosters for Lee, Lindsey Wilson and Martin include players from outside the Southeast. In some cases, they’re from out of the country.
Lindsey Wilson has players on its roster Canada, Jamaica, Demark, England, Brazil, Scottland, Australia, Japan, Mexico and Iceland.
So why do players from so far away want to come to Southern schools?
Hope Handley Clark, the third-year coach at Auburn-Montgomery, said the one of the reasons is obvious — the weather.
She has six players from Iceland, although more than half of her roster is made up of students from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.
“The warm climate and moderate temperatures make it easier to recruit to Southern states,” said Clark, a former standout goalkeeper at Virginia Tech. “That’s an advantage for the California schools, too.”
All games will be at Jack Allen?Soccer Complex. The tournament includes 16 teams and is single elimination.
Monday’s first round games10 a.m.: No. 4 Azusa Pacific (Calif.), 15-3-1, vs. No. 13 Indiana Wesleyan, 18-2-1
1 p.m.: No. 3 California Baptist, 16-4-1, vs. No. 14 Auburn-Montgomery, 15-4-2
4 p.m.: No. 1 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), 18-2-2, vs. No. 16 Southern Nazarene (Okla.), 17-3-1
7 p.m.: No. 2 Lee (Tenn.), 17-2-1, vs. No. 15 Trinity Christian (Ill.), 14-4-4
Tuesday’s first-round games
10 a.m.: No. 5 William Carey (Miss.), 20-1-1, vs. No. 12 Graceland (Iowa), 18-1-2
1 p.m.: No. 6 Concordia (Ore.), 19-2, vs. No. 11 McKendree (Ill.), 17-2-2
4 p.m.: No. 8 Vanguard (Calif.), 13-1-6, vs. unseeded Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.), 13-4-3
7 p.m.: No. 7 Martin Methodist (Tenn.), 15-2-2, vs. No. 10 Northwood (Fla.), 14-5
10 a.m.: Quarterfinal matchup
1 p.m.: Quarterfinal matchup
4 p.m.: Quarterfinal matchup
7 p.m.: Quarterfinal matchup
3 p.m.: Semifinal
6 p.m.: Semifinal
7 p.m.: Finals