Aug. 4, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - Uncharacteristic. That is the adjective that Auburn head soccer coach Karen Hoppa used to describe Auburn soccer’s 2013 season. A year that saw the Tigers finish below .500 with an 8-9-4 record, the first sub-.500 record since 2005 and breaking a streak of seven-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But those numbers are a thing of the past and might as well be a distant memory based on how well Auburn ended its 2013 season compared to how it started.
The Tigers went on to go undefeated for its final six games of the regular-season and reached the SEC Tournament quarterfinals after beating LSU, 1-0, in overtime. It was the 13th-straight year that Auburn was in the SEC Tournament field and gave the Tigers plenty of confidence into the off-season.
“We’re super excited for our preseason this fall to get going,” head coach Karen Hoppa said. “I was ready for it to start the second our spring season ended because of the way our team developed over the last year. Last season, we ended the year playing our best soccer. We had such a young group on the field and then we had a fantastic spring. I really think the team took a big step in the spring. We have a great freshmen class and we can’t wait to get them all on the field together.”
One doesn’t have to look long into the soccer files to realize the amount of talent on this year’s squad. Led by seniors Alicen Wright, Ashley Kotero, Tori Ball and Chelsea Gandy-Cromer, the Tigers have a bevy of experience starting with Kotero and Ball, who are both fifth-year seniors. Kotero’s 2013 was cut short to injury and Ball was second on the team in goals scored (6), but was also hampered by injuries. According to Hoppa, everyone is 100%, which is something she hasn’t had in a while.
“Our senior class is really a unique group with four different personalities.” Hoppa said. “Everyone is very unique and I think that is great for our team. When you have 25 girls, it gives everyone a senior to look to. We have two fifth-year kids in (Ashley) Kotero and (Tori) Ball, who have been through it all with this program with a championship to a season that finished below .500. They’ve been through it all and they’re hungry.”
Alicen Wright won the starting job in goal during the second half of last season during Auburn’s run to the SEC Tournament, notching 64 saves (.771) and four shutouts. On the other side of the ball, Chelsea Gandy-Cromer has continued to lead by example with her work ethic and brings a strong presence on the front line, finishing third last year in goals (4) with 18 shots on goal.
“You have Alicen (Wright), who transferred in with a very different experience at a different university and has brought that here,” Hoppa said. “She, obviously, became our starting goalkeeper through the last half of the season and is really vocal. I think she has that fun personality that is great for team chemistry. Finally, you have Chelsea (Gandy-Cromer), who battled through injury last year for her minutes, but now she is 100 percent. She was never 100 percent in the fall. She’s such a worker and a grinder with fitness and all those things. It’s a great mix and I’m excited for them to lead this team.”
As strong as the seniors are, it’s hard to ignore the record-performance that now-sophomore Casie Ramsier put on during her first year on The Plains. Ramsier started all 22 matches as a freshman, leading the team with nine goals and 22 points. Her nine goals were the most by an Auburn freshman since Katy Frierson in 2008 and she also tied the school-record for scoring a goal in four-consecutive matches, the most ever by an AU freshman. Ramsier’s play not only netted her two SEC Player of the Week awards, but was also named to the All-SEC Freshman Team.
“Obviously, Casie (Ramsier) is going to be the marquee player coming back because she had such a phenomenal freshman year,” Hoppa said. “That’s going to be a challenge for her because she’s going to be a marked woman on the field. She’s going to be the one the defenses are going to key in on. That’s something we’ve worked on with her in the spring. Hopefully, what that will do is open up some opportunities for some other people.”
10 home games highlight the 2014 soccer schedule, starting with a match against UC Irvine to kick off the Auburn Soccer Classic on August 29 at 7 p.m., but preparations begin well before that with the first official practice on August 6 at the Auburn Soccer Complex.
The Tigers first competition will be against Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Aug. 16 as an exhibition match and is a date that has been circled on the team’s calendar since 2013 ended. The team is hungry and looking to show fans what Auburn soccer is really made of.
“I think this team is going to be a team that is really fun to watch,” Hoppa said. “It’s a group of girls, who are hungry, they’re coming off a season that didn’t live up to Auburn standards and they really want to get Auburn back where they need to be. I think it’s going to be a fun, exciting and hard working group and its going to be enjoyable soccer for our fans to watch.”
Stay close to AuburnTigers.com all this week as we'll be covering the first day of practices as well as previewing each position leading up to the first competition day on Sat. Aug. 16 against Georgia for an exhibition.