“The best word to use is challenging,” Fleck said of the 2013 slate. “It’s probably one of the toughest schedules we’ve put together since I’ve been here, and that’s very much by design. It’s a very tough road, but that’s the only way I know that we can have an opportunity to win a conference championship and possibly go deep in the NCAA Tournament.”
The 2013 season begins at home on Aug. 30 as Stetson takes on UMass-Lowell in the first of three straight matches to start the season against teams that advanced to the postseason a year ago. The River Hawks, in their first season of NCAA Division I action, reached the NCAA Division II East Region Finals in 2012.
The Hatters follow up the opener with a trip to Tampa on Sept. 2 to take on a USF squad that advanced to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Stetson returns home on Sept. 8 to host another first year Division I program, Grand Canyon. Like UMass-Lowell, the Antelopes were a postseason team a year ago, reaching the Division II Sweet 16.
Stetson begins a four-game road stint on Sept. 13 against Georgia Southern, the first of two games at the Mercer Tournament in Macon, Ga. The Hatters challenge another NCAA Tournament team from last season, the Big South Champion Winthrop Eagles, on Sept. 15.
A return trip to Florida to take on UCF in Orlando on Sept. 18 is followed by a match at James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va. on Sept. 22. Stetson plays host to LaSalle on Sept. 28 before opening up Atlantic Sun Conference play with home contests against Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb on Oct. 4 and Oct. 6, respectively.
The standard round-robin A-Sun schedule will also feature home matches against Mercer (Oct. 20) and A-Sun Champion and NCAA Tournament participant from 2012 Florida Gulf Coast (Oct. 26). Road contests in league play will be at USC Upstate (Oct. 11), ETSU (Oct. 13), North Florida (Nov. 2), and Jacksonville (Nov. 9).
The regular season slate will close on Nov. 10 when Stetson travels to Boca Raton to take on Florida Atlantic. The A-Sun Tournament, which includes the top six teams from the conference’s regular season action, is scheduled for Nov. 13-17.
“This conference has gotten a great deal better recently,” Fleck continued. “Teams like ETSU, Mercer, and Florida Gulf Coast have all done very well as of late. I think the majority of the A-Sun coaches understand that sometimes you have to take your lumps. If you survive, however, and you start thriving on it, then you have a bunch of kids that start believing. Once they believe, you have a real chance.”