Oct. 28, 2013
Soccer coach Karen Hoppa says Tigers are playing their best soccer of the season (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Not long ago, it seemed unlikely that Auburn’s soccer team would have anything at stake Thursday when it goes to Alabama for the final game of the regular season.
But Karen Hoppa’s team, frighteningly young and staggered early by injuries, wasn’t going to give in so easily. And as a result, the Tigers have a chance to move on to the Southeastern Conference Tournament next week in Orange Beach. They have to win, and they have to have some help. But they have a chance.
For Hoppa, who has taken the Tigers to seven consecutive NCAA regionals, it’s not the most comfortable of positions. But she’s watched her team grow, and she’s proud.
“I’ll always remember this team fondly,” Hoppa said. “Another team might have packed it in, but they kept on working and kept on improving. They never lost focus. We’re playing our best soccer now.”
After losing their first four Southeastern Conference games, the Tigers hit a maddening stretch of three consecutive double-overtime ties. They returned home last weekend knowing they had to sweep games from Arkansas and Vanderbilt to have a chance. And they did it.
Now, they have to beat Alabama. A tie won’t do. And they have to have some help from others.
Going into the weekend, Alabama is ninth with a 4-6 record and 12 points. Arkansas is hanging on to the 10th and final SEC Tournament spot. also with a 4-6 record for 12 points. Tennessee and Auburn are 2-5-3 for nine points. There is potential for even a four-way tie that would have to be sorted out by tiebreakers.
“We have to win and see what happens,” Hoppa said. “If we tie, we are out.”
Regardless, Hoppa said, it’s Auburn-Alabama. The Iron Bowl of Soccer trophy is at stake. Auburn won it last year and has no interest in giving it back.
“It will be wild in Tuscaloosa,” Hoppa said. “It always is.”
Already with the youngest roster of her 15 Auburn seasons, Hoppa lost two starters for the season before the first game. Others have played through physical ailments.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Hoppa said, “whether we make it or not.”
Freshman Casie Ramsier has led the way on the field, scoring nine goals and 24 points. She has scored goals in four consecutive games and has been won back-to-back SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Senior Tori Ball has played through pain and has scored six goals and 16 points. Alicen Wright has made 50 saves in goal.
Tennessee plays at Vanderbilt (1-8-1) and Arkansas plays host to Missouri (4-3-3) Thursday.
Whether the Tigers move on or their season ends, Hoppa said she is excited about the future. The Tigers’ roster includes eight true freshmen and just three seniors.
“Very excited,” Hoppa said. “We’re going to be great.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: