Maggie Cropp understood, at least a little bit, why her team was picked to finish fourth in the Southern Conference this season.
But that doesn’t mean Mercer’s talented goalkeeper liked it.
And the senior certainly will use that perceived slight for motivation this season. After all, the Bears won the conference tournament title last year and went to the NCAA tournament. And that came in Mercer’s first season in the conference.
“We’re coming in off a championship, so we know that we have to show up because everybody is trying to beat us,” Cropp said. “They picked us fourth in the preseason poll? That fired us up.
“(The second season in the Southern Conference) is kind of cool because we get to go to all the places that we haven’t been, and we get to beat them at home. We beat them at our place, and now we can go beat them at their home, too.”
The Bears lost six starters, and 10 players total, from last year’s team that lost at Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
But head coach Tony Economopoulos likes what he has seen from his team, both the leaders like Cropp, Maddie Clark, Sarah Daane and Katelyn Dimopoulos, along with the team’s seven freshmen.
“They all know the challenge of what happened last year, and they want to repeat, so they have put in the work,” Economopolous said. “We have a tough schedule. Those kind of games will prepare us for the Southern Conference and hopefully for the NCAA tournament. That’s why you play those kinds of teams.”
The Bears open their season Friday at Tulsa before a game Sunday at Oklahoma State. The home opener is Aug. 28 against Charlotte, while the conference opener is Sept. 26 against The Citadel.
Mercer finished 14-6-2 last season, including 6-1-2 in conference play.
“Last year, we weren’t expected to be the best. We didn’t know what we were getting into, and no one knew how we were going to do,” Daane said. “People said we might not do as great, but then we came in and shut everyone out. That definitely puts a target on our backs, but I think we’re all really excited and know what we’re going to do with each team.”