WALESKA -- Reinhardt got its road map as it tries to return to the NAIA playoffs for the fifth straight season and win the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division for the fourth straight year when the Eagles’ 2019 schedule was released last week.
Five of Reinhardt’s 10 games this season come against teams they beat last year, but coach James Miller said his team will have to play even better this year with the target still on its back.
“I didn’t think we handled it really well last year,” he said. “I think this team is more mature and prepared to handle it this year. I really like where we are coming out of spring football. The culture of the team is in a good place. We have to keep that going and continue to improve it this year.”
The Eagles will continue to compete with Bluefield, Point, St. Andrews and Union for the Mid-South Conference Appalachian Division title.
However, realignment has added Cincinnati Christian and Kentucky Christian to the mix, after the pair combined to go 2-20 in the Bluegrass Division last year.
“I think it always changes year to year,” Miller aid. “The Mid-South is one of the best conferences top to bottom. It doesn’t matter how good they were last year. They’re always going to have players. We have to be ready every week and approach it one week at a time.”
The changes have put Reinhardt’s rivalry with the University of the Cumberlands on hold. The Eagles faced the Patriots in each of the last two years in division games and have gone 3-1 against them in the program’s six seasons.
The rivalry with Pikeville will remain, however, as Reinhardt is set to face the Bears for the fifth straight season, though it is no longer a division game like it has been for the last two years.
A rivalry with Cambellsville will also return this season. The Eagles split four games with the Tigers during their first four seasons from 2013-16, outscoring Campbellsville 205-169 during the series.
“We keep Pikeville, which I like,” Miller said. “That’s kind of becoming a rivalry, and we’ve had some great games with Campbellsville. As our program has gotten older, there are certain teams you just always have good games with, so I think those will be good again.”
Also in the non-conference, Reinhardt will face a pair of Florida teams for the first time.
Webber International will visit Reinhardt to open the season Aug. 24. The teams were supposed to meet early in the 2017 season before the game was cancelled, while the Sept. 21, trip to West Palm Beach will be Reinhardt’s first scheduled meeting with Keiser.
“I’m excited to see what those teams have,” Miller said. “I know we were ready to play Webber International a couple years ago. It just gives us the chance to play teams in other parts of the of
In two seasons under Miller, Reinhardt has played very well on the road, compiling a 9-1 record, including wins in its last four, but this season will be a different kind of road test.
The Eagles have not played more than two straight road games since 2014, but they will have a three-game road trip with stops Campbellsville, Keiser and Kentucky Christian as part of a run that features just one home game in 56 days from Sept. 7 to Nov. 2.
“That’s going to be a challenge,” Miller said. “We just have to keep taking it one game at a time. You really never know. We’ve had some teams here that are actually a lot better on the road. It’s still going to come down to how we play, so we’re doing our best to get used to that travel and blocking out all the distractions.”
Reinhardt will have an extra week of prep work this season with the addition of a third bye.
For the second straight season, the Eagles will take a week off following their season opener. They added a second bye week before opening division play Oct. 10, against Kentucky Christian, and they will have a week off before closing their season Nov. 16, against Union.
“That’s just the way everything worked out,” Miller said. “We were actually trying to schedule another game, but it didn’t work out with anyone’s schedule. We may still schedule another game if we can find one, but it seems unlikely. We don’t actually want that much time off, but if we have it, we’re going to try to make the most of it.”