Match 1: No. 7 Seed Auburn 3, No. 2 Seed LSU 0
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 2, 2011) – Tatiana Coleman hasn’t enjoyed watching her Auburn team from the sidelines the last three matches.
During that stretch, with the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team selection on the bench due to an upper leg injury, the Tigers have gone winless, posting a tie and two losses to close out the regular season.
Coleman quickly made up for her time away from the field on Wednesday in the first round of the SEC Soccer Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., scoring on a header at the 30:05 mark of the game to put the seventh-seeded Tigers on the board en route to a 3-0 victory against second-seeded LSU.
“She was hungry and our team was hungry to have her back out there,” Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa said. “She makes such a difference because she is so dangerous every time she touches the ball and she opens up things for everybody, like Katy [Frierson] and Ana Cate, so we were all hungry to get her back out there.”
Auburn (12-6-2) advances to Friday’s SEC Tournament Semifinals against the winner of the Kentucky vs. Tennessee first-round match.
Coleman said that despite a 3-1 win against LSU on Oct. 14, she and her teammates knew that it wouldn’t be an easy victory on Wednesday afternoon.
“We worked really hard all practice and we knew that we had LSU and had beaten them before, but we knew that they were going to come back hard to try to win,” Coleman said. “As soon as I got in, I knew I had to score the goal and that I would be alright. I had a muscle injury and it kind of slowed me down a bit, but the first goal was really exciting and we just needed that to be able to push.”
Auburn, which held that 1-0 advantage at halftime, added another goal to the board in the 62nd minute when LSU’s Alex Arlitt got tangled up trying to clear a ball in front of her own goal and ended up scoring an own-goal.
“Tatiana played 16 minutes and created two goals for us because the own goal, I give her credit for that one as well,” Hoppa said. “We have really been missing her; she’s a big part of our attack and, for her to come in and make an impact on this game in such a short amount of time, was really critical for our team.”
Coleman made the most of her 16 minutes in the game, helping the Tigers to the three-goal victory. Interestingly enough, in the four games that Coleman has missed this season, Auburn’s record is 0-3-1.
“I have missed a lot of games and I just wanted to get back on the field and run,” Coleman said. “I’m not as strong as I was, but I tried and effort goes a long way.”
Auburn rounded out its scoring on Wednesday with a goal by sophomore Maddie Barnes off an assist from Lydia Townsend with less than three minutes remaining in the contest.
LSU had the advantage in shots 16-11, including a 7-6 edge in shots on goal, but Auburn goalkeeper Amy Howard posted seven saves and, according to Hoppa, did a lot of things well that didn’t show up in the stat sheets.
“Amy Howard with the shutout played great,” Hoppa said. “She handled the ball a lot; she may not have had a ton of saves, but she handled the ball a lot and was solid every time she went up for it.”
LSU (13-7-1), the 2011 SEC Western Division Champion, is still hopeful for an NCAA Tournament bid based on the incredible strength and parity of the league this season.
“I think it’s the best year ever for SEC Soccer,” LSU head coach Brian Lee said. “We’re hoping to get eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, but certainly six or seven is very realistic, and maybe eight. It’s the best we’ve ever been.”
Match 2: No. 3 Seed Tennessee 2, No. 6 Seed Kentucky 1
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 2, 2011) – If Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament match between third-seeded Tennessee and sixth-seeded Kentucky could be described in basketball terms, it might adequately have been characterized as a full-court press.
The teams employed a frantic style for the first half of the game, with the Wildcats disrupting the Lady Vols by outshooting them 11-6 and entering the locker room with a 1-1 tie. But Tennessee took over late in the second half with a goal by Chelsea Hatcher in the game’s 77th minute to grind out a 2-1 victory at Orange Beach, Ala.
“You need to be able to be above any sort of disruptive style and you can’t allow that to impact your emotions,” Tennessee head coach Angela Kelly said. “It goes from being a very composed, relative state to frantic. The more mature you become as a soccer player and then the maturity and the wisdom you have as a team and a unit, you’re able to do things within the game that counter that kind of disruptive style. I think that we executed well in the second half.”
Tennessee (15-5), which has won four SEC Tournament titles, claimed its first win in league tournament action since 2008, the last year it captured the crown.
Kentucky (13-7) got on the scoreboard first with an unassisted goal from senior forward Kelsey Hunyadi from 18 yards out on the right wing. That goal in the 11th minute of play put the Wildcats up 1-0 before Tennessee quickly responded.
Senior UT forward Emily Dowd connected on her team-leading 12th goal of the season less than two minutes later as she launched a shot from about the same distance down the middle to knot the score. While Dowd’s performance in the opening half was able to lead the Lady Vols through the first 45 minutes, Kelly said that she felt that a total-team effort in the final period was the key to the victory.
“It was a battle and we knew that,” Kelly said. “It was in the air a lot and we needed to make sure that we continued to play the way that we know how to play and not allow anything to disrupt that. Credit to Kentucky, it’s always a battle. I was pleased with a great individual performance by Emily Dowd in the first half. You saw a collective team effort in the second half and that’s what we’re all about at Tennessee. For that second half, I’m proud of the team.”
The Lady Vols controlled the shots in the second half 10-2 and took the lead for good when Hatcher scored off of a free kick in the 77th minute of play.
“I thought it was a very good game,” Kentucky head coach Jon Lipsitz said. “I thought it got a little choppy at times, but both teams just tried to reel it back in and start playing again. At this level, when you make mistakes, you get punished for them. We made a couple of mistakes and Tennessee punished us for them.”
Match 3: No. 8 Seed Alabama 1, No. 1 Seed South Carolina 0
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 2, 2011) – Was there any question that soccer in the Southeastern Conference is stronger than it has ever been in 2011?
If by some chance there was, that doubt was silenced on Wednesday evening at Orange Beach, Ala., as eighth-seeded Alabama knocked off top-seeded South Carolina 1-0 in the opening round of the SEC Soccer Tournament.
“I know that on paper, this looks like an upset with the records and the seedings and all that,” Alabama head coach Todd Bramble said. “But I don’t think the way the game played out tonight that it was an upset. I think the better team won tonight.”
While the win by the Crimson Tide was clearly well deserved on Wednesday afternoon, there’s no question that it was a notable victory. It was the first by Alabama in the SEC Tournament since 1998 and it gave the Crimson Tide (10-7-3) their first double-digit overall win total since 2004. Additionally, it was Alabama’s third win this season against a ranked opponent as South Carolina checked in at No. 19 nationally.
Sophomore Alabama midfielder Molly Atherton had the lone goal of the match, scoring in the 30th minute off a cross to the middle, knocking it in from about eight yards out. The game-winner was her fourth goal of the season.
“It was a good performance by our team,” Bramble said. “I thought in the first half, we were very good. I thought it was an outstanding goal by Molly [Atherton] and it was well deserved. When you’re playing against a team like South Carolina, they’re going to fight back in the second half and they made a great run to try to tie it up, but our defense was outstanding and our goalkeeper Justine [Bernier] was big-time tonight.”
The Gamecocks out-shot the Crimson Tide 18-10, including five shots by 2011 SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kayla Grimsley of South Carolina. Alabama keeper Justine Bernier posted a match-high seven saves in a complete 90-minute effort.
“They’re a great team and they have Kayla Grimsley – you don’t just get SEC Offensive Player of the Year for no reason,” Bernier said. “She’s a quality player and the back four did a phenomenal job of shutting her down. I tried to be there when I was called upon, but the back four in front of me played outstanding.”
Despite the tall task of facing the SEC regular-season champion and the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Bernier said the team has had a determined mindset the entire week and that it was an element that aided in its success on Wednesday.
“The mindset was completely opposite of what you’d think it would be,” Bernier said. “We came to win, we didn’t come to go on vacation or go to the beach, we came to make a statement and there’s no better way to start than that.”
The loss for the Gamecocks ended their eight-match winning streak that culminated in the program’s first-ever SEC regular-season title.
“It was disappointing,” South Carolina head coach Shelley Smith said. “We didn’t come out very well; we haven’t had one of those down games in a long time. We were on a run and tonight was not a good night for us. Give credit to Alabama, they showed they wanted it more, especially in the first half. When you go down a goal, it really puts you in a tough position sometimes and puts the pressure on them to score. Given more time, I thought we’d definitely find the net, but we just ran out of time.”
Despite the loss in the SEC Tournament, South Carolina will undoubtedly have an opportunity to continue its record-setting season in the NCAA Tournament. Smith says that, if handled the right way, the time off could benefit the Gamecocks down the road.
“It’s a positive that we’ve got some time to rest,” Smith said. “It’s a grind getting through the season and we’ve got some aches and pains and things that are lingering. This could be a real fortunate thing for us. If there’s anything that make it feel any better, there will be time to heal and hopefully get a good draw, because we will be ready to play when it comes NCAA time.”
As for the Crimson Tide, they will face the winner of the Florida vs. Georgia contest in the second SEC Tournament Semifinal at 8:30 p.m. ET Friday.
“Both of those teams are excellent teams as well; they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament in a week’s time,” Bramble said. “We’re just pleased for the program and for the fans of Alabama that we get to represent our school in the semifinals. Whoever we play, it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
Match 4: No. 4 Seed Florida 2, No. 5 Seed Georgia 0
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 2, 2011) – A symbol of inspiration went a long way for Florida senior Tahnai Annis on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Orange Beach, Ala.
Prior to opening the SEC Tournament, Annis’ injured teammate McKenzie Barney presented Annis with her captain’s armband, symbolizing her role as one of the team’s leaders. Since Barney suffered a season-ending injury, she entrusted her teammate with the awesome responsibility of helping lead her team into the postseason.
Annis delivered on Wednesday evening with both of her team’s goals, helping fourth-seeded Florida break a two-match losing streak with a 2-0 victory against fifth-seeded Georgia.
“I think that did it for me,” Annis said. “I had no idea Mac was going to do that and Mac means so much to this team as a leader and I look up to her in that way. She inspires me day in and day out and it just really meant a lot to me to be able to perform for her and represent her as a leader on and off the field. I’m glad that we came out and played so hard tonight and got the win.”
Florida (15-6), which has won a league-high nine SEC Tournament titles, had lost three of its last four matches and had been forced to play from behind in a number of recent contests. When Lindsay Thompson found Annis for the first goal of the match in the 26th minute, it took a lot of pressure off of the Gators.
“I can’t remember the last time we played from ahead, so it’s been a long time,” Florida head coach Becky Burleigh said. “It’s much easier to do that and, not having to chase the game, was a big relief, emotionally for our team.”
The Gators held that lead until the 45th minute, when Annis scored her seventh goal of the season off an assist from Holly King with 11 seconds remaining until intermission to extend UF’s advantage to two goals.
“Usually I haven’t been taking the corners,” said Florida’s Lindsay Thompson. “But since the time was running out, I was closest, so I went and called the far-post corner. Holly [King] went and got really high, headed it, it bounced off their defender and then their keeper and Tahnai made a great effort to get there and just put it in the back of the net.”
Annis said the ability to play from allowed her team to play more loosely and focus on its own system.
“It just takes so much pressure off of our shoulders,” Annis said. “The past four or five games, it has just been so emotionally draining to try to catch up in a game where you’re dominating possession and you’re playing around them, but things just aren’t working in the end. It takes a lot of pressure off of you and we can kind of get into our game and not so much worry about having to catch up and get one goal and then get another goal really quickly.”
Florida out-shot Georgia 16-11, including an 8-3 edge in shots on goal. The Gators will now face Alabama in the second SEC Tournament Semifinal on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
“That was not one of our prettier performances in terms of the way we played, but I love the way we battled and I love the fact that we got a shutout and that we’re moving on to the next round,” Burleigh said. “I thought Alabama did a great job in their game today. The goal they scored was a well-deserved goal and they’ve been playing well as of late, so I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
Georgia (12-6-2) will look ahead to a potential at-large NCAA Tournament bid after falling behind to Florida on Wednesday and being unable to catch up.
“It was a hard-fought match between two great teams,” Holeman said. “I thought you had two teams here who could potentially win the whole thing. It was unfortunate that we gave up a couple of goals in the first half, especially in the end. That one took the wind out of our sails a little bit. They’re a great team and, at the end of the day, I think they deserved to win.”