By: Brian Rice
SEC Digital Network
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. -- The 20th Southeastern Conference Tournament kicks off on Monday in Orange Beach, Ala., the ninth consecutive year the site has played host to the event.
“The SEC is very excited to be celebrating its 20th Anniversary Soccer Tournament and playing for the ninth-straight year at the Orange Beach SportsPlex,” SEC Assistant Commissioner Leslie Claybrook said.
“Our student-athletes, coaches and administrators love the facility and love being in Orange Beach competing for an SEC Championship and earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Sports Commission have been great partners in making the SEC Soccer Championship the best in the nation.”
As is the case for the conference tournament in most sports, the SEC Soccer Tournament spent the first decade of its existence rotating among campus sites. But in 2003, the SEC announced a five-year agreement to move the event to the neutral site in Orange Beach. The site has given the schools a yearly goal to shoot for and has proven to be a valuable asset for the Orange Beach-Gulf Shores area in early November.
“It’s extremely important to the City of Orange Beach and the state of Alabama,” said Danny Martin, Parks and Recreation Superintendent for the City of Orange Beach. “The notoriety it has brought us across the country, being a nationally-televised event, it’s made people aware that Alabama not only has a beach, but a beautiful beach.”
The economic impact of the event and the awareness that it brings to the city and the entire area is also an important part of the relationship with the SEC and the soccer championship.
“The economic impact is incredible,” Martin said. “Over the years, we’ve had players that have played in this tournament bring their families back for vacation, and that’s important for us, that’s our bread and butter.”
Since 2003, the tournament has only been held outside of Orange Beach once, in 2004, when the effects of Hurricane Ivan forced a move to Auburn, Ala. due to damage to the SportsPlex and accommodations that teams utilized in the Orange Beach area.
“It’s great,” said former Kentucky goalkeeper and 2006 SEC Tournament MVP Anne Ogundele of Orange Beach. “It’s an area of seclusion to some degree, but it also allows us to stay on the beach and bond together. It’s really gorgeous with the grass that they have there. It is a really great place to play and a really fun environment. A lot of the locals came to the games. It’s very fun and entertaining to play in front of a group that’s not all your fans or not necessarily on your side.”
The 20th anniversary event kicks off with the new 10-team format on Mon., Oct. 29 with a pair of games matching the 7-10 and 8-9 seeds. Eight teams will celebrate Halloween with the second round on Wed., Oct. 31 before the semifinals on Fri., Nov. 2 and the championship match on Sun., Nov. 4. The championship will once again be televised by ESPNU, with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The week also features a clinic for area youth as well as autograph sessions and other fan and team events.