Tori Ball is learning to play pretty well in unfamiliar surroundings.
The redshirt-sophomore forward has played out of position in each of Auburn’s first two games of the season in substitute duty at center-back — but you wouldn’t think it, seeing how stifling her defensive line has been to opponents’ attacks.
Ball also hasn’t taken many corner kicks during her time at Auburn — but you wouldn’t think that either after seeing two of her corners find the net, both unassisted, to give Ball a game-high two goals in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory over High Point on Sunday.
“Tori’s really had a fantastic preseason,” said Auburn head soccer coach Karen Hoppa. “She’s been playing the best soccer of her career so far. We needed someone to take those right-footed corners because last year’s taker graduated. Tori’s been practicing on that, and you can’t get any better than that; two goals directly off a corner. That’s really rare.”
Each of Ball’s goals came off of bending corner kicks, and each of them were scored in the opening moments of the game. Ball first scored on a corner kick just off of High Point goalie Jesse May’s fingertips in the game’s sixth minute. Moments later, another one of Ball’s corner kicks hit the opposite post and rattled in during the game’s 11th minute.
“I just started taking them this year,” Ball said. “We had Katy Frierson taking them last year and she was awesome at them. We had a great number of corners, (12). So it was great for our attacking fives to get those corners for me.”
Auburn’s third goal of the afternoon came in the second half, during the 57th minute, when Mary Coffed headed home a high rebound off the crossbar after a shot by forward Tatiana Coleman. Coleman’s shot bounced upwards off of the crossbar and Coffed bested May with a header to earn her second goal of the season and Coleman an assist on the play.
“It was up there for so long I was trying to figure out what surface to use (head or foot),” Coffed said. “Tati’s shot was a rocket. I was just glad to be there. Right place, right time I guess.”
An unassisted goal from the top of the 18 and off of the right foot of true freshman Alexa Allen gave Auburn a 4-0 lead after 63 minutes. High Point got on the board with a goal by midfielder Becca Hemby in the 75th minute to give the game its final 4-1 tally.
“It’s a lot better result,” said Hoppa, comparing the win to Friday’s 1-0 victory over Georgia State. “We did a lot better finishing. We worked on that (Saturday) to try to get a little sharper. It’s something we’ve got to build on, because we still had a lot of opportunities. We still had 16 shots on goal and only four goals, so I think we still need to be better in that category. But we took a big step today from Friday.”
The Tigers scored four goals on 16 shots-on-goal on Sunday, as opposed to one goal on a comparable 14 shots-on-goal in the season opener on Friday.
“I think in that first game under the lights there’s a lot of excitement and jitters,” Coffed said. “One of our goals is to get better each game. I think offensively we spent some time just off the field yesterday on Saturday analyzing runs and whatnot, so I think that was a little more put together today. That’s exciting to see: us getting better a little each game.”
The Auburn defensive backfield didn’t allow a single shot attempt in the game’s first half, marking 135 minutes through two games with just one shot attempted by opponents.
Ball was a big part of that defensive back line—so big she was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week—starting at center-back in place of Bianca Sierra, who is with fellow Tiger Ashley Kotero representing Mexico in the U-20 World Cup.
“The back line has done fantastic, and we have been piecing it together a little bit,” Hoppa said. “We’ve had to have some other people step up in that position and Tori was one of them. She’s not a natural defender but she’s very good on the ball, and she’s a smart player, and she’s done a great job filling in for us at center-back.”
The win lifts Auburn to 2-0-0 on the season, with a trip to California next on the schedule and contests at Pepperdine and UC Irvine set for this weekend.
For now, Ball will remain on the back line until the cavalry — Sierra and Kotero — return in September.
“It’s definitely different,” Ball said. “But I’ll do whatever it takes to help out the team.
“We’ve gotta defend our SEC Championship. I’m excited.”
Photos by Amy Thorington.
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