Soccer looks ahead to SEC Tournament

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Soccer looks ahead to SEC Tournament

CW / Madelyn Verbrugge

CW / Madelyn Verbrugge

CW / Madelyn Verbrugge

CW / Madelyn Verbrugge

After missing the SEC Tournament last season, Alabama soccer will be returning to Orange Beach, Alabama, this week to compete for a conference title for the first time since 2017.

After finishing the regular season with a 9-6-3 overall record and going 4-4-2 in conference play, the Crimson Tide is prepared to make a run in the tournament and potentially earn a place in the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 15.

With two games left in the regular season, both against beatable opponents in Auburn and Vanderbilt, Alabama was vying for the No. 5 seed in the tournament, which would have earned it a first-round bye. However, the Crimson Tide dropped both games, dropping it to the No. 7 seed and forcing it into action in the first round.

That being said, Alabama is still happy to make the trip to Orange Beach and show the conference why it deserves to make the NCAA Tournament.

“[We’re] certainly happy,” coach Wes Hart said. “We finished as a seventh seed. Had we won we would have been the five seed. … Disappointing that we had a couple of chances. Couple of home games to wrap things up and finish in one of those top six seeds but whatever; we can’t dwell on it now. We gotta just look forward.”

On the season, Alabama outshot its opponents 313-182, averaging 17.4 shots per game over 10.1 of its opponents. The Crimson Tide is also successful at forcing the ball outside of the back line, outdoing its opponents in corner kicks 146-53 to provide itself with plenty of scoring opportunities.

Junior forward Casey Wertz leads the team in points with 17, scoring five goals and registering seven assists on the season. Freshman goalkeeper A.J. Crooks has played well in the net for the Crimson Tide, with 37 saves and 12 goals allowed in 10 games. She finished the regular season ranked eighth in goals allowed per game and ninth in save percentage.

With the combination of a solid offense and an emerging presence in the net, Alabama is not going to be one to go down lightly, especially after missing the tournament last year.

“I’m excited,” Wertz said. “Obviously last year we didn’t make it, so one of my goals this year was I just wanted to get there and I wanted to win one game. I think freshman year we lost the first game, so going into the SEC Tournament I’m just excited to be there and I really want to win that first game.”

Ironically, Alabama will face in-state Auburn in the first round of the tournament. If it advances, the Crimson Tide will face Vanderbilt in the second round. The team’s final two games of the regular season were one-goal losses to Auburn and Vanderbilt, respectively.

Auburn finished the season 7-9-2 overall, going 4-6 in conference play. The Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide 3-2 on Oct. 27 off of a golden goal in double overtime.

That close loss is motivating the Crimson Tide going into the tournament.

“You know as Alabama we’re supposed to hate Auburn, but I think Auburn is a very respectful team,” Wertz said. “ I think obviously really good and they deserve respect but I’m really excited.”

In its 18 games this season, Auburn has been outshot by its opponents 216-217. The Tigers have also allowed more goals than they’ve scored, coming in at 25-27. However, Auburn has some skilled players that could prove tough for Alabama, just like they did on Oct. 27.

Auburn senior midfielder Bri Folds has registered 15 points on the season, scoring six goals and tallying three assists. Folds also leads the team in shots with 14. Another offensive player for the Tigers is sophomore forward Hailey Whitaker, who has three goals and four assists.

These notable players will prove to be a challenge for the Crimson Tide’s defenders. Senior defender Nealy Martin and junior defender Brynn Martin, along with freshmen defenders Bella Scaturro and Sasha Pickard have proven they are up to the challenge.

Should Alabama advance against Auburn, Vanderbilt will be waiting, along with a tough schedule since the Crimson Tide is the No. 7 seed.

Just like he said all season, Hart emphasized that Alabama’s season is now one-and-done going forward.

 “Our game from here on out — our season — is really just a one-game season,” Hart said. “We play Auburn which is a matchup I would love to play and I gotta believe that they’re going to be excited for that matchup. Should be a fun first round in Orange Beach.”

Alabama takes on Auburn on Sunday in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach at 1 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.