Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21
A history of close-contended matches between Alabama women’s soccer and Tennessee did not manifest itself on Saturday afternoon’s season opener. Instead, due to a valiant performance on both sides of the field from Alabama, the Crimson Tide came out with a 3-1 win over Tennessee.
At Thursday’s press conference, head coach Wes Hart stated that if Alabama were to have a fast start “it would be a fun day.” Alabama’s offense did just that, putting three shots on goal within the first 10 minutes of the game. Despite not converting these shots into goals, those first 10 minutes instilled confidence in the Alabama offense.
“We want to be aggressive,” Hart said. “I thought our attack started off great.”
Much of Alabama’s offensive success and pressure came from drawing corner kicks. Alabama led in both the categories of corner kicks and shots on goal against Tennessee.
Senior Casey Wertz drew an elbow to the face in the 19th minute of the game, which resulted in a penalty kick opportunity. Fellow senior Riley Mattingly took the kick and put the ball in the back of the net, giving Alabama a 1-0 advantage.
Junior McKinley Crone found success in collecting five saves and allowing only one goal. One of Crone’s saves came from a one-on-one situation on a Tennessee breakaway ball minutes after Alabama scored its first goal, holding Alabama’s lead into halftime.
“You expect her to make a big save or two to keep you in games and she did just that,” Hart said. “I thought McKinley Crone was fantastic.”
Alabama put the nail in Tennessee’s coffin early in the second half with back-to-back goals from Mattingly and sophomore Serena Pham.
The duo of Mattingly and Wertz looked to be the center of the Alabama offense as they exchanged passes on the attack and shots on goal. Junior Gabby Duca worked her way into the mix throughout the game and is expected her to do so more throughout the season.
“They [Wertz and Mattingly] do have a very good working relationship,” Hart said. “I think the next step for Riley and Casey is for Riley to get Casey the ball and get to goal.”
Senior Brynne Martin and the Alabama defense did not provide the Tennessee offense much opportunity, clearing the ball when Tennessee held possession within the box. However, in the final minutes of the game, the defense allowed the Tennessee offense to hold possession in the box, which resulted in Tennessee capturing its lone goal of the game.
“[I’m] just proud of the group for grinding the win out at the end,” Hart said.
Hart said his message to the team will be to continue to apply offensive pressure early in the game, especially as the team plays on the road for its next two games.
Saturday’s contest was more than just a game. It was a chance to raise awareness about police brutality and racial injustice. Junior Taylor Morgan and others raised awareness by kneeling during the national anthem.
After the game Morgan tweeted that the decision to kneel was the “easiest decision that I’ve ever had to make” and her kneeling was “in no way meant to disrespect the flag nor military.” Morgan’s tweet got the attention from United States Women’s National Team member Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe retweeted Morgan’s statement, adding an encouragement to “keep walking in that strength, and doing the right thing.”
Alabama’s next contest is in Starkville against Mississippi State on Friday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network.