SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For the first time since joining the Southern Conference, the Mercer Bears have been selected as the preseason favorite by the league’s seven head coaches. The Bears edged out last year’s tournament champion, Furman, by just four points to take the top spot.
The coaches also selected an 11-member preseason all-conference team, with Furman leading the league with four selections. ETSU and Mercer were next in line with three selections each, while Belmont rounded out the team with one selection.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams or players in the balloting.
Mercer, the 2018 regular-season champion, received 35 points and five first-place votes. Furman received the remaining two first-place votes and 31 total points. The Paladins were also picked to finish second last season before taking home the crown at the 2018 SoCon Men’s Soccer Championship. ETSU was tabbed to finish third with 27 points, with last year’s preseason favorite and tournament runner-up UNCG taking the fourth spot with 20 points. Belmont was picked fifth with 15 points to edge Wofford (13) by two points, while VMI rounded out the poll with six points.
Led by the SoCon Coach of the Year Brad Ruzzo, Mercer went 12-4-2 overall last season and 6-1 in league play en route to a regular-season championship. The Bears return 10 players with experience in the starting XI from last year’s squad, including 2018 SoCon Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Trevor Martineau. The sophomore forward lands on the preseason all-conference team after leading the league in points (25), goals (nine), and game-winning goals (five) last year. Martineau is joined by midfielder Roberto Arteaga, the 2018 league leader in assists (eight), and defender Joshua Harrison. Arteaga was a 2018 All-SoCon first-team selection, while Harrison was selected to the second team.
Furman placed forward Emery May, midfielder Rocky Guerra, defender Jack Shiels and goalkeeper Ben Hale on the preseason all-conference team. Last year saw the Paladins finish 13-7-2 overall and 4-2-0 in conference play, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship before being eliminated by Virginia. Hale was the 2018 SoCon Goalkeeper of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick, while May garnered a second-team selection after tying for the league lead in goals (nine).
ETSU finished the 2018 campaign 9-7-1 and 4-1-1 in conference play, which was good for second in the league standings. Forward Bruno Andrade and defenders Merveil Bilomba and John Lucchesi represent the Bucs on the preseason all-conference team. Andrade was a first-team All-SoCon selection last year, while Bilomba and Lucchesi both landed on the second team.
Belmont midfielder Niccolo Dagnoni, an all-freshman selection last season, rounds out this year’s preseason XI.
The 2019 regular season begins on Friday, Aug. 30, as all seven teams are in action with UNCG and VMI hosting matches and Belmont, ETSU, Furman, Wofford and Mercer opening the season on the road.
The Southern Conference Men’s Soccer Championship debuts a new format in 2019, with no predetermined sites. The first-round game between the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds will be played at the No. 6 seed on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds will host the quarterfinals and semifinals the following weekend, with the highest remaining seed hosting the title match on Saturday, Nov. 16, or Sunday, Nov.17.
2019 Men’s Soccer Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Mercer (5) 35
2. Furman (2) 31
3. ETSU 27
4. UNCG 20
5. Belmont 15
6. Wofford 13
7. VMI 6
2019 Men’s Soccer Preseason All-Conference Team
F Bruno Andrade, ETSU
F Emery May, Furman
F Trevor Martineau, Mercer
MF Niccolo Dagnoni, Belmont
MF Rocky Guerra, Furman
MF Roberto Arteaga, Mercer
D Merveil Bilomba, ETSU
D John Lucchesi, ETSU
D Jack Shiels, Furman
D Joshua Harrison, Mercer
GK Ben Hale, Furman