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Tigers top Georgia State in soccer season opener

Mary Coffed netted Auburn’s first goal of the season — and clinched Auburn’s first victory of the season.

After a long and dull offseason for the Auburn women’s soccer team, the 2012 season finally kicked off Friday night with a 1-0 win over Georgia State at the Auburn Soccer Complex.

In a year without any spring exhibitions or preseason tune-ups, Friday marked the Tigers’ first game as a team since the 2011 campaign ended at the NCAA Tournament last November. After the long hold-off, they were eager to take the field and be tested in live game action, and most had a chance to show off their stuff to the home crowd last night.

Senior goalkeeper Amy Howard did not.

That’s because Howard’s defensive back line essentially gave her the night off.

In the game’s full 90 minutes of play, Georgia State only mustered one shot for the stat sheet — a dribbler in the game’s waning moments from well outside the 18 that coasted out of bounds far from the post.

The Tiger defense was stifling, holding the Panthers to without a single shot on goal. Howard recorded the shutout without a single save.

Quite literally, Amy Howard didn’t have to lift a finger.

“It starts with our forwards defending and our midfielders,” said senior center-back and team Co-Captain Mary Nicholson. “One (shot) kind of bugs me a little bit, because we could’ve held them to zero. But I’ll take it.”

Nicholson lead the smothering performance by the Tiger defense — which was even more impressive considering they did it shorthanded without defensive stalwarts Bianca Sierra and Ashley Kotero, who are both away from the team until September, competing for the Mexican National Team in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

“We were a little nervous about it (replacing Sierra and Kotero), but everyone stepped up and played great,” Nicholson said. “The freshmen came in and it was like they’ve been here all year and last year.”

Auburn head soccer coach Karen Hoppa struck the right chord in mixing new personnel to patch the holes in her defense.

“We’re missing some players on the back,” said Hoppa. “I think Mary Nicholson, our center-back and our senior captain, was outstanding in keeping everybody organized and everybody calm. We played a few different people at center-back and a few people that had never played some different positions before.

“I’m really happy with that defensive group.”

While the defensive back line shined brightest in the opener, it was a forward that netted the game’s only goal and sealed the victory for the Tigers.

Senior forward Mary Coffed finally got a shot past Georgia State keeper Rebecca Ingram in the game’s 78th minute to give the match its final 1-0 score. Coffed found the opposite upper 90 with an assist by true freshman midfielder Haley Gerken.

“Our midfielders got it out — Ana Cate and Tatiana (Coleman) doing what they do — and fed it to one of our freshmen, Haley Gerken, who carried it up the field,” said Coffed. “And I was able to peel wide and get off the shot.”

Still, the offensive front line didn’t finish with the performance they would have liked to have had to match their defender teammates. The Tigers took 28 shots, 14 of those shots on goal, and ended the game with just Coffed’s lone score to show for it.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Coffed. “It definitely shows we need to work on our finishing and our offensive attack. But good teams figure out a way to get it done and I think that was shown tonight a little bit. We’re excited for the win.”

For Hoppa and her club moving forward, Tigers simply clocking more minutes together on the field after the long offseason lay-off could be key.

“I definitely think there’s a little bit of rust,” said Hoppa. “There’s a little bit of just working the kinks out like any opening game. It’s never going to be smooth or perfect.

“We’re just happy to get the result. We’re happy Coffed finally got one in the net. We certainly need to work on some finishing and score a higher percentage of our chances. But our defense was outstanding, and it’s great to be 1-0.”

The Tigers will hope to move to 2-0 on the young season Sunday afternoon against High Point. Kickoff set for 2 p.m. at the Auburn Soccer Complex.

Photo via Anthony Hall.

Related: Auburn soccer dances to Beyoncé in team-building ‘flashmob’.

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