Aug. 7, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - Going into the previous off-season, one major concern for Auburn soccer head coach Karen Hoppa and her coaching staff was their team's goal scoring opportunities and offensive output from the attacking third. After netting only 27 goals in 2013, the Auburn coaches knew there needed to be some extra spark and went right to work to help create some depth behind team-leading scorers, All-SEC freshman Casie Ramsier and Tori Ball.
Ramsier and Ball both combined for 15 of Auburn goals last year, but were not able to break past opposing defenses enough times to make some early-season matches go their way en route to the team's 8-9-4 season record. However, this season is different as the forward position has loads of talent starting with a strong crop of freshman signed back in February to complement the offensive veterans of Ramsier, Ball as well as seniors Chelsea Gandy-Cromer, Ashley Kotero and junior Logan Beal.
"The forward group is a group that we'll have the most depth," Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa said. "Obviously, Casie (Ramsier) is going to be the marquee player coming back because she had such a phenomenal freshman year. 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."
Ramsier finished her freshman season leading the team with nine goals, putting her already just seven off the top-ten for career goals scored at Auburn. She also had a stretch of scoring at least once in four-straight matches to tie the school record with Katy Frierson. That stretch was also the most ever by an Auburn freshman.
Coach Hoppa knows that teams are going to key in on Ramsier this season, but has no problem optioning off to a healthy Tori Ball when both are on the field at the same time.
"That's something we've worked on with her (Casie Ramsier) in the spring," Hoppa said. "Hopefully, what that will do is open up some opportunities for some other people. Tori could move up to the front line and she's such a great goal scorer. Between her and Casie, I'm okay if they double up one to open up the field for the other."
Ball finished her junior season last year with six goals, second on the team, even while battling injuries all season-long.
The need for attackers was evident on Signing Day last winter when seven out of the 10 new athletes that inked National Letters of Intent were, in fact, forwards. Katie Grunder, Hannah Alspach, Courtney Schell, Maddie Coats, Sydney Lurie, Kellsie Gleason and Kristen Dodson all will be listed as forwards and or midfielders this season, giving the coaching staff more than enough options to choose from if the injury bug hits again like last season.
"Last year's freshman class got thrown right into the fire with a couple of kids getting hurt during preseason," Hoppa said. "We had to rely on the freshmen a lot more on the field right away. We were able to watch how those kids grew and become pieces to the puzzle. This year's incoming freshmen class is just as good as last year's freshmen class, but hopefully won't have to be thrown in as quickly. I think they're going to be a great freshmen group and learn a lot from the sophomores because of all that experience that sophomores have."
Hoppa also mentioned having senior Ashley Kotero and redshirt sophomore Alex Massey back healthy is a huge boost to their offensive depth.
Massey has not recorded any minutes for Auburn since transferring from Nebraska after the 2012 season and then coming down with a tough injury during last year's preseason that sidelined her. Kotero is getting another chance at a true senior year after suffering a season-ending knee injury early last fall.
"Both players had great springs, where they were able to progress back in, and now we expect them to be 100% for this fall, so it's huge for that front line to have Ashley and Alex back in."
Auburn kicks off its 2014 competition season with an exhibition match against fellow SEC-rival Georgia in Athens on Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. The Orange and Blue's first home matchup will come as part of the Auburn Soccer Classic when it takes on UC Irvine on Friday, Aug. 29 at 7 p.m., and televised on SEC Network +.
For complete coverage on the Auburn soccer team, visit AuburnTigers.com, follow @AuburnSoccer on Twitter and `like' the Auburn University Soccer page on Facebook as well as follow us on Instagram.
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.