Wednesday, August 17, 2011

49ers play friendly at Winthrop

The 49ers' men's soccer team plays the first of two preseason exhibitions tonight at Winthrop (7 p.m.). It's the start of a season that holds a lot of promise.

Coach Jeremy Gunn's team returns nine starters from last season's Atlantic 10 regular-season champion. The major loss is striker Andres Cuero (who is playing for the Wilmington Hammerheads), who led the team with nine goals last season. The other starter, defender Justin Tucker, left the program.

Gunn thinks he has enough firepower to replace Cuero (whose goals were often clutch) -- Donnie Smith (six goals), Evan James four goals), T.J. Bealieau and Jennings Rex all return. The midfield is probably the strongest in the A-10, led by Tyler Gibson and Will Mayhew.

Gunn also thinks he has perhaps the best central defenders tandem in the country in seniors Isaace Cowles and Charles Rodriguez. They've started together since they were freshmen. Rodriguez is on the Hermann Trophy watch (college soccer's Heisman Trophy).

A freshman to watch is striker Giuseppe Gentile from Charlotte's Ardrey Kell High. "How can you go wrong with a name like that?" Gunn said.

Charlotte plays another friendly on Sunday at Transamerica Field against North Carolina, then opens its season Aug. 27 at Coastal Carolina. The home opener is Sept. 4 against UNC Wilmington. The non-conference schedule is really tough, highlighted by road games against Clemson, Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina.

-- Don't look for senior women's soccer player Katie Davies to use her unique forward flip throw-in this season. She injured her ankle and missed last season after she came down awkwardly while throwing the ball in during a preseason exhibition last season. Davies is back stronger than ever now, and will anchor what will otherwise be an inexperienced defense for the 49ers, who open their season Friday in a tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., against North Florida.

-- Charlotte golfer Olafur Loftsson will play in this weekend's Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. It's the first time an golfer from Iceland has played in a PGA Tour event. The tournament has received several requests from Iceland media to cover the event. Loftsson qualified for the Wyndham by winning last weekend's Cardinal Amateur.