SEC Soccer Tournament Central
No. 7 Seed Auburn 2, No. 3 Seed Tennessee 0
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 4, 2011) – After winning nine of its first 12 matches to start the 2011 campaign, including a thrilling win against No. 5 Duke, currently the nation’s top-ranked squad, the Auburn soccer team had high expectations for its season.
But after picking up just two victories in its final eight regular-season contests, the Tigers entered the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Orange Beach, Ala., seeded seventh. Auburn hoped that that seeding, while a little disappointing, would serve as motivation as it headed south for the league championships earlier this week.
“We were disappointed with our No. 7 finish based on the way we started the season and so I think the mindset was to redeem ourselves and that we had something to prove,” Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa said. “I think we still feel that way and I think we’ve proven something and we played a lot better soccer than we did at the end of the regular season.”
Consider the Tigers officially motivated.
Auburn (13-6-2) jumped on the board in the 33rd minute Friday and emerged with a 2-0 win against third-seeded and 23rd-ranked Tennessee to catapult the Tigers into the SEC Soccer Championship match, slated for 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday with a live telecast on ESPNU. Auburn will face the winner of the Alabama vs. Florida semifinal match.
“We really shouldn’t have been that low, but we lost a couple of games that we shouldn’t have,” said redshirt freshman forward Tori Ball. “We didn’t really feel like the underdog in either of these games.”
It marks Auburn’s first trip to the SEC Championship match since the 2005 season, when it lost to Tennessee 1-0. Sunday’s match will mark the Tigers’ third all-time appearance in the title tilt, after also appearing in 2001 and dropping a 2-1 decision to Florida.
“It was a great game,” Hoppa said. “Tennessee is a fantastic team; I think they are going to go real far in the NCAA Tournament. They put up a fight and I was really proud of our effort. We had a massive defensive effort against one of the best offenses in the country and we scored a couple of quality goals and did enough to win the game. I don’t think it was the prettiest game in the world, but we did enough to win and we’re excited to be playing on Sunday.”
Ball came off the bench to chart the first Auburn goal of the day, taking a pass up the middle from senior defender Julie King and finding the back of the net.
“Julie King played a great ball,” Ball said. “It was awesome. There were two defenders in between me and her and it was just a matter of finishing it.”
Tennessee held a decisive advantage in shots 21-11, including outshooting the Tigers 12-2 in the second half, but Auburn made the most of its opportunities.
“Give credit to Auburn, they put away their chances and I wish them the best of luck on Sunday,” Tennessee head coach Angela Kelly said. “We created enough opportunities, we just have to execute and put the ball in the back of the net.”
The Tigers added some insurance in the 86th minute when, this time, it was Ball finding King for her sixth goal of the season.
“They had pushed a lot of numbers forward and we were able to counter and get a corner,” Hoppa said. “We just did a great job of kind of digging that corner out. I can’t say it was the way I drew it up, but the girls fought hard and kept that ball alive, and punched it in the goal.”
Tennessee fell to 15-6 on the season and will now await Monday’s NCAA Tournament selection announcement.
“We just have to regroup and rest some bodies and wait for Monday to see where we will be,” Kelly said. “I’m really proud of our girls. I’m really pleased with the way we progressed this season and it’s certainly not over.”
No. 4 Seed Florida 2, No. 8 Seed Alabama 1
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (Nov. 4, 2011) – Erika Tymrak hadn’t recorded a point for her team since a career-high five-point output against Auburn on Oct. 7. The scoring slump started in the next match vs. Alabama, but the 5-foot-5 midfielder made sure that it ended against the Crimson Tide the second time around.
Tymrak scored Florida’s first goal and assisted on the game-winner to lift fourth-seeded Florida past eighth-seeded Alabama 2-1 on Friday at the Southeastern Conference Soccer Tournament to secure a spot for her team in the championship game.
“Every player has a slump, but my team was working for me,” Tymrak said. “It felt good to finally get it. Carolina [Triglia] came off the bench and had an amazing couple of passes. I think it was a couple of give-and-gos and she did awesome. She gave me a perfect ball; all I had to do was look up and I hit it far.”
Florida (16-6) advances to its 13th SEC Tournament final in program history, where it will face seventh-seeded Auburn. The Gators lead all league teams with nine SEC Tournament titles with the last coming in 2010.
“I am really, really happy to get to the final, especially with how we finished the regular season,” Florida head coach Becky Burleigh said. “We needed a little bit of a boost going forward and I think we’ve gotten that in those two games.”
Despite Alabama entering the tournament with the No. 8 seed, Florida was facing a formidable opponent as the Crimson Tide defeated top-seeded and SEC regular-season champion South Carolina in the SEC Tournament first round on Wednesday. Alabama showed no signs of letting up on Friday.
The Crimson Tide got on the board first in the 33rd minute when Janea Simpson found Pia Rijsdijk for the first goal of the match, but it wouldn’t last long. Tymrak answered nearly a half-a-minute later with her first goal in eight matches to knot the score at 1-1.
“That was a terrific response by our team, I thought,” Burleigh said. “In the second half, we really, really played well and credit [Alabama goalkeeper Justine] Bernier for really good saves.”
Despite Florida outshooting Alabama 14-5 in the final period, the Crimson Tide employed a relentless defense. Goalkeeper Justine Bernier finished with eight saves in the contest and held the Gators at bay until the 81st minute with a number of acrobatic saves.
“It’s a senior-laden group back there; they’ve got a lot of experience and are very organized,” Alabama head coach Todd Bramble said of his team’s defense. “They are backed by a very good goalkeeper. That group that played in the back for us, they played 90 minutes of both games, so it was an outstanding effort.”
Senior Florida forward Lindsay Thompson finally broke through at the 80:21 mark when she scored on a cross from Tymrak eight yards out to give the Gators the deciding 2-1 advantage.
“Erika had been dribbling the whole game and it seemed like she couldn’t find the last pass because the runs were off or whatever,” Thompson said. “Finally, she gets through and just lays it right across the goal for me to tap it in, basically.”
The Crimson Tide (10-8-3) return to Tuscaloosa hopeful that eight SEC teams will earn bids to the upcoming NCAA Tournament. They will find out on Monday afternoon when the selections are announced.
“This team has played very, very well the last month,” Bramble said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good results and a lot of good performances. The way that we’ve done that is by just focusing on ourselves, not worrying about who we’re playing next and just trying to get better each performance out. I think this team has done a good job of that.”
For the Gators, the road to the championship match has provided renewed confidence as they seek their 10th SEC Tournament crown.
“It’s very gratifying,” Thompson said. “I feel like it’s been a while since we won two in a row, so it’s kind of a relief to see that we can still do this. We’re a good team, so we can’t get down on those losses.”