With just five games left to play in the regular season, the Auburn women’s soccer team is gearing up for a four-game, two-weekend road trip, starting tonight at 6 p.m. as the Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
All four of those road matches, and the season-finale at home against archrival Alabama on Oct. 25, will prove to be pivotal for the Tigers as they position themselves for another run at the SEC tournament title.
As it stands, Auburn sits in second place in the SEC West standings, and fifth place overall in the conference with an 8-7-0 (4-4-0 in-conference) record.
Last year, these Tigers would have been in fine position, leading the West and sitting in third place overall. But the addition of two new conference powers in No. 9 Texas A&M (12-2-1, 6-1-1 SEC) and No. 14 Missouri (12-2-0, 7-1-0) has bumped Auburn down to the middle of tier of the newly-realigned SEC.
However, Auburn has already put matches against the Aggies and the Columbia-Tigers behind it, and the orange-and-blue Tigers have also survived through games against SEC-elites No. 12 Florida (10-3-1, 7-1-0) and Tennessee (10-3-2, 5-2-1).
What remains on Auburn’s schedule is a five-team list of winnable matches for the Tigers, filled with games against teams sitting under .500 in conference play.
The only problem for Auburn is that four of those matches are on the road, where the Tigers are just 1-3-0 on the season.
Tonight, the Tigers are going to have to enter UGA territory with a different mindset than they have had in previous road games.
“We know that going on the road in the SEC is really difficult,” said senior Auburn forward Mary Coffed. “Where we are with our season right now, I think we’re using that almost as motivation, since these are all winnable games for us, to take on the situation with a positive and exciting attitude and confidence that we can get the job done even if we are on the road against these teams.”
Auburn’s lone win away from home this year came in Baton Rouge against LSU in September. Two of the Tigers’ road losses, however, came during an early-season trip to California for matches against Pepperdine and UC Irvine.
Auburn is 1-1 on the road in-conference, falling to Texas A&M on that same weekend as the LSU win.
“In this conference, every place you play is tough,” said Auburn head soccer coach Karen Hoppa. “I’ve said it before, you go in there with a mentality of, ‘You’re down a goal.’ I think one of the keys we’re focusing on for this weekend is that we’re trying to start fast. If we can get off to a fast start and we can get the first goal, I think that kind of negates the home-field advantage and puts us in a much better spot. So that’s really going to be a strong objective going into this weekend.”
The Tigers won’t need any extra motivation tonight, facing bitter rival Georgia (6-7-2, 2-4-2). From senior down to freshman, each girl on the team knows the importance of the Auburn-Georgia rivalry on the soccer pitch.
“Just because I’m from Georgia, I’ve always wanted to go home and beat them on their home turf,” said freshman forward Alexa Allen, a Buford native. “But I’m pretty sure it’s important for everyone, because it’s an SEC game and we want to win them all.”
In all, there’s 10 Tigers on the Auburn soccer roster from the state of Georgia, which is twice as many represented as any other state.
“I think regardless of where you’re from, this is a big rivalry for us,” said Coffed, who is from Atlanta. “Georgia has always had a great team. Obviously, knowing a good bit of the girls, there’s a lot of motivation going into this game. Everyone that I’ve talked to is super-excited, and we always get up for this game. So it should be exciting.”
The Tigers and Bulldogs tied through two overtimes in their only meeting a year ago.
“It’s a huge, huge rivalry game for us,” Hoppa said. “I think next to Alabama, it’s probably the next biggest rivalry we have because of the Georgia connections. It’s a big rivalry game and I think for us to succeed, we need to start fast, we need to try and get the first goal, and our defense has got to be on point for 90 minutes.”
TWER photo: Amy Thorington.
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