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'The team believes' - Auburn soccer advances to first Elite Eight
Auburn celebrates its 3-1 win Sunday at Florida, earning the Tigers' first NCAA Elite Eight appearance.
Nov. 21, 2016

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - Orange and blue balloons and a congratulatory cookie cake decorated the hall outside Karen Hoppa's office in the Auburn Soccer Complex, one of many expressions of appreciation the Tigers have received since clinching their first NCAA Elite Eight appearance.

"Everybody who was there played a role," Hoppa said. "But everybody who's been through this program when it started in '93 is a part of it, because they've laid the foundation. And it's been really fun to hear from all of the alumni. They are so invested, and I hope they all know they are such a huge part of this victory as well."

No. 16 Auburn advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals by beating No. 9 Florida, 3-1 Sunday in Gainesville.

"Our team was so happy, so ecstatic," said junior midfielder Courtney Schell. "Team chemistry is awesome, and the bus ride back wasn't bad even though it was six hours, because we got both the wins."

Auburn defeated UConn, 4-1 on Friday. In three NCAA Tournament games, the Tigers have outscored their opponents, 11-2.

"You don't have success in postseason without everything clicking," Hoppa said. "Certainly, the offense is on fire, 11 goals in 3 games against quality, ranked teams, two top 15 teams this past weekend.

"But it's everybody right now, and it's been a total team effort and 29 players did their job. Everybody's job is a little different, whether you play 90 minutes or zero minutes or anywhere in between. Everybody's doing their part. We're playing great defense. We certainly have limited some really special players to very few shots on goal. Our offense is clicking and the team believes. That's a huge part, too."

Auburn will play at No. 7 Southern Cal Friday at 3 p.m. CT in the quarterfinals. The Trojans beat the Tigers, 2-0, in Auburn on September 4.



"You will see two very different teams," Hoppa said. "Both teams will be similar in their tendencies and the way the play, but way better. They seem to have gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and our team certainly has done that. I feel we have gotten better every week, and are playing our best soccer right now."

Southern Cal's coach, Keidane McAlpine, was Auburn's assistant coach from 2006-11. After the Tigers won the 2011 SEC Championship, McAlpine, a Huntsville native, became the head coach at Washington State before taking over at USC in 2014.

"He's a close friend and a great guy, and he's an Auburn guy," Hoppa said. "It's kind of special. I don't think you could have written a script in Hollywood to have he and I meet in this game with the College Cup on the line."

The Tigers will leave for Los Angeles on Tuesday, allowing a couple days to recover from the long flight.

"Everyone wants Thanksgiving with family, but our team is a family," Schell said. "To have this experience is awesome."

Before the season, Hoppa said her 18th Auburn team "might be the best squad we've ever had." A program-record 17 wins, along with the first NCAA quarterfinals trip, validate that assessment.

"We talked about it in the locker room," Hoppa said. "This team, when they step on the field, they're fighting for each other. Nobody is playing for themselves. They're playing for each other. They're really believing in what they're doing. The chemistry is so good. It's such a special group. It was really fun to reach that milestone and to have this run so far with this group. We're excited to play another day."

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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