Winthrop's men's soccer team is in the thick of the Big South Conference race.
The Eagles, the preseason pick to win the conference for the third straight year, are 4-1 in the conference with three games left in the regular season.
The surprise in the Big South might be tonight's opponent, Gardner-Webb. Winthrop and Gardner-Webb play at 7 p.m. at Eagle Field.
The Bulldogs are a first-year member of the Big South. They played in the Atlantic Sun Conference for seven years after making the jump from Division II.
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Gardner-Webb, picked eighth in the preseason poll, finds itself in first place. The Bulldogs are 5-2 in BSC play, good for 15 points. Coastal Carolina is in second with 14 points, and Winthrop is third with 12.
Senior defender Henry Kalungi saw Gardner-Webb play earlier this year at Winthrop's Wingate Inn Classic.
"They are a hard-working team. We'll have to step up our effort. There is a chance they can score at any time," Kalungi said. "They are a good team, but I think we are better."
Kalungi and fellow senior Otto Loewy make up one of the best defensive duos around. Winthrop coach Rich Posipanko calls them the best in the Big South and, maybe, in the region.
"It's an honor to hear that," Loewy said. "But I won't rely on it. I have to keep working hard in practice. My teammates push me. Everyone pushes each other to make themselves better."
Loewy said hard work is what wins and loses matches. "(Gardner-Webb) works hard, and most times when you do that, you win games. The games we've lost this year was because we didn't work hard enough."
A prime example was the disappointing loss at UNC Asheville on Saturday.
Posipanko had a lot to say to his team after the loss. But the week of practice since has been normal.
He will insert another midfielder into the lineup and put senior forward Daniel Revivo up top alone to compensate for the loss of injured forward Matt Skonicki (high ankle sprain).
Skonicki could return before the BSC tournament, which is scheduled for Nov. 13-16 in Conway.
"These guys are old enough to bounce back from that game. We'll be fine," Posipanko said.
Gardner-Webb coach Tony Setzer has put an emphasis on conference games in his first year in the Big South. But the Bulldogs have posted just one non-conference win, a 3-0 win over USC-Upstate at the Wingate Inn Classic.
Setzer said the transition to the Big South has been pretty easy.
"We have played these guys (Winthrop) many times before. It has been a very easy transition to come over to the Big South and play," Setzer said, noting that most of his non-conference schedule while in the A-Sun was against Big South opponents.
Setzer isn't surprised his team is in first.
"I'm pleased. But there are still a lot of seedings to be sorted out," he said.
Gardner-Webb went to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2006, then struggled through injuries last year and finished 3-16.
As for the matchup with Winthrop, Setzer said: "They are outstanding, to be quite honest about it. I know about them, and they know about us. If we can get a win over there, it would be a highlight of our season."