Need Something to Cheer for

Soccer kicks off tonight as the #18 Georgia Bulldogs battle the Jacksonville Dolphins at the Turner Soccer Complex at 7:00 pm. Last year, Georgia finished 12-5-2 and just missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. The team improved dramatically from the year before when they went 4-9-5 and this year the should improve even more. Why? Coach Patrick Baker tells me in this interview.

Dave McMahon -- Last year you just missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, are you using that as motivation for this year's squad?

Patrick Baker -- I hope the players are. We were so close a year ago. We were probably one win away. That was the first time I saw the selection show and the team I was a part of didn't make it. I didn't know how to handle it.

DM -- This looks like a very strong team...

PB -- This team has 3 things that I really like... One is that they return 9 of 11 starters from a strong team. Two is that we have 9 seniors. That is a lot of leadership. Three is that we have a top-10 recruiting class coming in. This is a very good team.

DM -- Your team posted 10 shutouts last season... is your defense the key again?

PB -- I hope so. We put a lot of emphasis on defense. We have a very strong back line. Our goaltender Lauren Church is back and we have a lot of good defenders. They are a little banged up, but they will be fine.

DM -- Is Lauren Church one of the nation's best?

PB -- She is definately capable of being one of them. She always makes 2-3 special saves each game and all the routine ones.

DM -- You lose your top scorer Ali Williams due to graduation, who will pick up her scoring?

PB -- We will probably have a scoring by committee. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Last year it seemed like if Ali scored we won and if she didn't we lost. We don't want a situation like that.

DM -- Who are some of the freshmen that have a chance to contribute?

PB -- Right now I believe that Carrie Patterson, who was one of the best forwards in the south. Olivia West, who played for nationals last year. Lindsay Stein was the Colorado player of the year and there are many others.

DM -- The first game is on Friday is this a statement game?

PB -- I tell people the 2 teams I wouldn't want to be are Jacksonville because it is the first game and Mississippi State because they are our first SEC game. We want to send a message in these games. We want to show how hard we have been working.

DM -- Who are some of the other SEC teams to look out for?

PB -- Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt look strong. Unfortunately all 3 are on our side of the bracket. Ole Miss and Auburn are good as well. I think LSU is much improved, too.

DM -- Thank you for your time and good luck in the first game.

-- Georgia plays at 7:00 pm on Friday at 5:00 pm on Sunday. Both games are at the Turner Soccer Complex in Athens.

-- Additional notes...

-- Georgia has faced Jacksonville one previous time... UGA won 11-0 in 1999.

-- Georgia won 8 of 11 games in Athens last season and has a 79-29-8 record all-time in Athens.

-- Georgia led the SEC and was 6th nationally in total home attendance as 17,915 fans took in 11 Bulldog soccer games in Athens, drawing 1,629 fans per game, nearly 400 more than the 2004 average of 1,267. Over 1,600 fans attended Georgia's 1-0 exhibition win vs Clemson last Saturday.

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