Nov. 12, 2013
By: Josh Brunner
AUBURN, Ala. - After reaching the Southeastern Conference soccer tournament for the 13th straight year, the Auburn University soccer team completed its 2013 campaign, winning four of its last five matches, one being the Tigers second straight victory over the Crimson Tide to keep the Iron Bowl trophy of soccer.
Auburn finished the season with an 8-9-4 record, with three wins coming in conference play, but the Tigers finished out the regular season on a six-game unbeaten streak, including a three-game win streak that secured their spot in the postseason.
"From October 6th to November 6th we went without a loss, and that is a really incredible feat for this team," Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa said.
Even with the Orange and Blue hitting its stride late in the year, this season will mark the first time in eight years that the Tigers will not be preparing for the NCAA Tournament. Seven of Auburn's opponents from this year made the national tournament field, with the Tigers even scoring a win against one of them (Arkansas, 3-1).
"We have been to seven straight NCAA Tournaments which is an incredible run, and we are really proud of that," Hoppa said. "Unfortunately we won't go this year because we are one game below .500. We will look back at this season and we will learn a lot from it."
Auburn had a tough go to start the season after losing forwards Ashley Kotero and Alex Massey to injuries, which required the team to rely on a group of young players to step up and play. With such a young group on the field, the Tigers were then tasked with an extremely difficult schedule, something that coach Hoppa believes the Tigers overcame.
"We had the toughest schedule in the SEC, and our team had to learn the hard way, and then they did," Hoppa said. "Our team started playing well and started clicking."
The Tigers began to click during their rivalry matchup with Georgia where Auburn came away with a critical conference point to get the ball rolling. The following weekend, the Tigers earned two more points, this time on the road against Tennessee and Missouri after going the distance with two double-overtime ties.
With SEC Tournament hopes on the line going into the final weekend of the regular season, Auburn defeated Arkansas and Vanderbilt at home before traveling to Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers not only won its second straight Iron Bowl, but punched its ticket to the conference tournament. In the crucial match, junior Chelsea Gandy-Cromer scored her first goal since Sept. 22 against Southern Miss, to snap a nine-match scoreless streak.
Riding this late season momentum, Auburn played LSU in the first match of the SEC Tournament and defeated the Tigers on an overtime penalty kick from senior Bianca Sierra. The goal for the senior captain was her only one of the season, but couldn't have come at a bigger time. This would send Auburn to the SEC quarterfinals for the third straight year, where they faced Texas A&M for the second time of the season.
Auburn fell to the Aggies earlier in the regular season by a score of 3-1 at home. However, the Tigers were looking to have a different outcome against the SEC regular season co-champions. After a hard fought match, Auburn was defeated by Texas A&M, 1-0, after an Aggie shot attempt was deflected past AU goalkeeper, Alicen Wright. Despite the loss, Coach Hoppa felt that her team played a better game than the first meeting between the two programs.
"I thought we played really well at home against A&M," Hoppa said. "I think overall we did play better the second time, we just didn't have the legs, having played on Monday. Playing a fresh A&M team, I really think that was the difference in the game. We had chances in that game, we just couldn't get one."
Individually throughout the season, Auburn was led by true freshman Casie Ramsier, who had the best freshman season for an Auburn player since Katy Frierson in 2008. She was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team and led the team in numerous categories, including points (22), goals (9) and shots (55). She was the first Auburn freshman since Amy Howard to win SEC Freshman of the Week in consecutive weeks and she was also the fourth to win the award twice in one season. To add to her accolades, Ramsier tied the Auburn record for consecutive games with a goal scored (4).
Junior Tori Ball was another offensive threat for the Tigers this year. Ball posted six goals in the campaign to go along with 16 points. She was one of the captains on the team, and the Tigers will benefit from her leadership and offensive prowess next season.
Kala Faulker also played a pivotal role in the Tiger's late success in 2013. Faulkner was moved from right back to the primary center back in the middle of the year. After the switch, the Tigers only allowed five goals over an eight game stretch. In turn, Faulkner was named to the All-SEC Team for the second straight year and will anchor the Auburn defense in 2014.
Auburn now goes into the offseason hungry for the start of 2014. With more experience and players coming back from injury, the Tigers look to be in the hunt once again for the postseason.
"I am excited for this offseason," Hoppa said. "The future of this team is bright. If I could start next year's preseason right now I would. I am that excited about next year."