Soccer preps for NCAA tourney
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 03:11
In a year plagued by change, both for better or worse, Texas A&M soccer was able to maintain a grasp on consistency as it earned the program its eighteenth consecutive postseason berth, a streak only matched or exceeded by four other universities around the country.
With the playoff slot came the luxury of a final decisive home game, one in which the Aggies (17-4-1, 10-2-1) will host the Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin (17-3, 8-0), each team hoping to extend their run for an NCAA Championship with a victory in the first round clash.
“We’re excited. We know that they’re a decent team and we’re confident going into it, but we can’t take anyone lightly,” said sophomore defender Meghan Streight. “We’re going to do everything we can to make a statement this year.”
Entering its inaugural season with the Southeastern Conference, A&M was well aware it would be forced challenge itself with brand new opponents and a slew of ranked foes.
Unfortunately, the conference realignment came with a price for the soccer program.
The Aggies’ eight-year conference title streak, acquired through either the regular season or the league tournament, was broken as Florida claimed each by a relatively slim margin. Despite winning the west division, A&M ended the season half a game shy of Florida before falling short to Auburn in the SEC Tournament semifinals, killing any hope of a rematch with the Gators.
“There’s a lot of motivation on our whole team and after the loss against Auburn. [Assistant coach] Phil Stephenson told us that [the loss] should be like our fire to go through the tournament,” said sophomore forward Allie Bailey. “That’s what everyone’s feeling right now. We’re really focused on Friday’s game and just going to take one game at a time.”
In the Aggies’ three career matchups against Stephen F. Austin, A&M is undefeated, winning by an impressive 17-1 score. Despite history being on the Aggies’ side, though, the Ladyjacks of 2012 present a heavy threat for a home upset.
SFA currently ranks No. 17 nationally in goals against with an average of .605 per game. Additionally, this is only the program’s third NCAA Tournament appearance and its first since 2007, meaning the team will leave everything on the pitch.
With the imposing defensive-oriented squad visiting College Station, A&M head coach G Guerrieri considers the hazard Stephen F. Austin presents to the forward-moving Aggies.
“I think their best defense is the fact that they keep the ball, they really move it around,” Guerrieri said. “They’re a real threat to score from a lot of different places. They’ve been the dominant team in their league for a few years now.”
Following Texas A&M’s disappointing second-round loss to Virginia Tech in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the Aggies path to redemption flows directly through SFA and its hardened Ladyjacks squad.
With a victory, A&M will advance to play the winner of Oakland at Ohio State next week.