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Georgia soccer head coach Billy Lesesne discusses the plan for the last ten minutes of play time. (Photo/Kate Skeean)

For the first time since March, sports are back in Athens as Georgia soccer takes on South Carolina on Sunday for its first game of the shortened 2020 season. The SEC-only schedule consists of eight games and is coming after an extended preseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been a long preseason and we've had a chance to just focus on us and there's some real positives to the length of this preseason,” Georgia head coach Billy Lesesne said. “We were out for a very long time so we needed a longer period of time to acclimate to playing conditions again.”

The Bulldogs were originally scheduled to play five matches in the spring but were only able to play the first match against Samford — a 2-1 loss — before matches were postponed.

The spring season is an opportunity for players to learn the functions of the positions they play, whereas the fall season is focused on putting a team together and winning matches, Lesesne said.

“With the longer run into this we've had an opportunity to do both,” Lesesne said. “From a balanced perspective and rest and recovery we've utilized our functional sessions which are shorter in duration, but more focused on a specific skill set of a position so I think that's helped our players.”

The extended preseason is leading up a shortened regular season, only playing eight games compared to 20 in the 2019 season.

Along with less games and travel, the changed schedule gives more time in between games. The Bulldogs will only play on weekends in the upcoming season and only play four games on the road with the longest road trip being to Lexington, Kentucky. Last season, Georgia played nine games on the road with the longest trip being to Lafayette, Indiana to face Purdue.

“That will give us more time for rest and recovery,” Lesesne said. “And getting back in the mode of traveling is probably going to be different than it's been just because of conditions that are out here with the pandemic.”

The 2020 season is set to be unlike anything in Georgia soccer history with a limited schedule and no chance to compete for a national championship this fall. The incoming freshmen are entering into a new environment and team in Athens under circumstances no one has ever experienced.

Lesesne added seven freshmen and one sophomore transfer to his team — Ali Kalayjian, a defender from Florida State — after losing four players following the 2019 season.

While neither underclassmen or upperclassmen have experienced these circumstances, the veterans on the roster are leading the team through an unparalleled season.

“We've got a really good group of upperclassmen who have really helped our culture as a team grow,” Lesesne said. “They're the voices that the younger players are hearing and I'm really proud of the leadership that group has taken.”

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