SEC women's soccer starts play this week and continues through November. With American fandom in soccer peaking during the World Cup this summer, the start of European soccer the next few weeks and added coverage by the SEC Network, college soccer should enjoy a bump of popularity and interest for this fall's season. Six SEC teams earned berths in the 2013 NCAA tournament, with two advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Below, I take a look back at each team's 2013 season and take a look forward to some key contributors for the 2014 season.
Florida (18-5-1, 9-2 SEC) shared the SEC regular-season title with Texas A&M last season and advanced to the SEC tournament title game. The Gators lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Duke after losing the SEC title game, 2-1, to Texas A&M. The regular-season title was the Gators 13th title in 19 seasons of NCAA soccer. The Gators enter the 2014 season as the highest ranked SEC team in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America rankings with a No. 8 preseason ranking. Florida lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Duke. The Gators will be missing sophomore forward Savannah Jordan for the beginning of the season while Jordan participates with the United States National Team in the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup. Jordan was named Soccer America and TopDrawerSoccer.com Freshman of the Year in 2013 after she contributed 22 goals, a total that tied her for the SEC lead. Jordan, junior defender Christen Westphal and senior midfielder Havana Solaun were named to the 2014 Hermann Trophy watch list, three of eight SEC players on the 35-woman list. All 2013 starters return for Florida in 2014, including a defense that yielded only 15 goals in 24 games (0.62 goals per game average) and an astonishing five goals in 11 SEC regular season games. Florida opens its season with home games against Miami and USF before six straight road games ending with its SEC opener at Alabama on Sept. 19.
Texas A&M (18-5-2, 9-2-0 SEC) won the SEC tournament in 2013 after sharing the regular-season crown with Florida. Winning two games in the NCAA tournament, Texas A&M advanced as far as any SEC team (tied with Arkansas) before succumbing to ACC powerhouse North Carolina in the round of 16. The Aggies came in ninth in the preseason NSCAA poll, just behind Florida. Ten starters return from A&M's 2013 squad, accounting for 54 of their 56 goals scored in 2013. Included in those returning starters are a pair of Hermann Trophy watch list members, senior midfielder Shea Groom and senior defender Meghan Streight. Florida and A&M are the only SEC teams with multiple players on the watch list, and two of six programs nationally. Streight, who has started all 74 games in her career, looks to earn her third straight All-SEC first team tally. Texas A&M begins its season on Aug. 22 against Dayton and, outside of a pair of games in Tempe, Ariz. against Arizona and Arizona State, has no other non-SEC road games.
South Carolina (17-4-2, 8-2-1 SEC) finished the 2013 SEC regular season a half-game off the pace set by Florida and Texas A&M, earning the Gamecocks the No. 3 seed entering the SEC tournament. The Gamecocks fell 2-1 in the semifinals of the tournament to eventual champions Texas A&M, but earned a No. 3 regional seed in the NCAA tournament, which placed them just ahead of the Aggies in the same regional. South Carolina fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Stanford. South Carolina returns eight starters, including 2013 Hermann Trophy semi-finalist and 2014 Hermann Trophy watch list member, senior goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo. D'Angelo started all 23 games, keeping 12 clean sheets and giving up only 14 goals en-route to South Carolina having the best defense in the SEC at 0.61 goals per game. The Gamecocks relied on their defense as their offense came in seventh in the SEC in goals per game and their scoring was distributed with only two players above three goals and their highest scorer, Raina Johnson, coming in with 10 goals. South Carolina opens their season ranked No. 14 by the NSCAA and will open their schedule on the road at East Carolina on Aug. 22 before commencing SEC play on Sept. 21 at Auburn.
Ole Miss (16-6-2, 7-3-1 SEC) looks to build off the most successful season in school history. The Rebels made their fifth appearance in the NCAA tournament and beat Jackson State in the first round, 9-0, before losing to eventual national runner-up Florida State in the second round. The Rebels lose forwards Rafaelle Souza, a 2013 Hermann Trophy semifinalist and Brazil international, and Mandy McCalla, who combined for 37 of the team's SEC-high 63 goals (2.62 goals per game; next highest goals per game was Texas A&M at 2.24 goals per game). Goalkeeper Kelly McCormick, the only senior on the 2014 squad, returns after keeping 10 shutouts in 2013. The leading returning scorer is junior forward Olivia Harrison. Harrison scored seven goals last season and led the team in assists with eight. Ole Miss enters 2014 outside the NSCAA Top 25, but is the third team outside the Top 25 receiving votes. The Rebels open their regular season on Aug. 22 with a home game against Georgia and former Ole Miss head coach Steve Holeman.
Kentucky (14-7-1, 7-4-0 SEC) finished fifth in the regular season in 2013 after starting 6-1-0 in the SEC, then finishing 2-3-0 in the regular season. A second-round, 2-0 loss to Ole Miss in the SEC tournament (after a first-round bye) was followed up by a first-round NCAA win over Ohio State. Kentucky ended their season with a 3-0 loss to eventual national champion UCLA. Kentucky returns seven starters from the 2013 squad, including a member of the Hermann Trophy watch list, senior forward Arin Gilliand. Gilliand led the Wildcats in both goals (12) and shots (10) in 2013. Junior midfield/forward Stuart Pope added 10 goals, including five game winning goals, in 18 games before tearing her ACL, MCL, and meniscus against LSU. Kentucky opens its season with a road trip to Seattle and games against Washington and Seattle University before opening SEC play on Sept. 19 at Arkansas.
Georgia (12-7-1, 5-5-1 SEC) moved up in the SEC standings from 12th to sixth from 2012 to 2013, but missed out on the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years under the dean of SEC coaches, Steve Holeman. The Bulldogs fell to South Carolina in their first game of the SEC tournament, 4-0. Georgia returns six starters from 2013 including sophomore winger Marion Crowder. Crowder paced Georgia as a freshman with 11 goals, including a 2013 SEC single-game high of four against College of Charleston before tearing her ACL in the offseason. With Crowder coming off her ACL repair, Georgia will look to sixth year senior midfielder Laura Eddy for a steadying hand while bringing through five new starters. Incoming freshman Mariel Gutierrez is presently away with the Mexico national team during the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Canada, where the defender has played all 180 minutes through the Mexicans' first two games. Georgia opens its campaign at Ole Miss on Aug. 22 in the first live in-season game on the SEC Network.
LSU (9-9-2, 5-5-1 SEC) had a roller coaster season in 2013. The Tigers won or tied their first six SEC games, then lost the last five. The Tigers capped off the collapse with a 1-0 loss to bottom-seeded Auburn in the SEC tournament first round, leading to the Tigers missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. The Tigers lead the NCAA with four players appearing on their national teams at the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup. Sophomores Emma Fletcher and Megan Lee are representing host nation Canada and New Zealand respectively, while incoming freshmen Jordane Carvery and Lily Alfeld represent the same pair of countries. Fletcher and Lee, plus fellow sophomore Summer Clarke, were all named All-SEC second team as freshman, and are three of LSU's seven returning starters. Fletcher led the SEC in 2012 with 12 assists, while Clarke chipped in 10 goals to make the top 10 scorers in the SEC. LSU opens their schedule against Troy on Aug. 22 before opening SEC play on Sept. 19 at Missouri.
Missouri (8-9-3, 4-4-3 SEC) stood tall with some of the front-runners of the SEC in 2013, winning home games against Florida and South Carolina. Ties against Auburn, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, who all finished 10th or lower, doomed the Tigers chances at moving up the SEC standings. A final-day loss against Arkansas set up a rematch with the Razorbacks in the opening day of the SEC tournament, where Arkansas inflicted a heavy 4-0 defeat to end the Tigers' season. Missouri returns eight starters, including senior goalkeeper Michelle Sauerwein. Sauerwein has started 62 of her 63 games in three seasons and led the SEC with 100 saves in 2013. Missouri's offense was balanced in 2013, with no goalscorer with more than six goals and no player with more than five assists. All SEC first-teamer senior Kaysie Clark returns after leading the Tigers with six goals, while senior forward Taylor Grant is the leading assist-maker. Missouri opens their schedule playing in the Penn State tournament against Syracuse and West Virginia before opening SEC play at home against LSU on Sept. 19.
Arkansas (15-8-1, 5-6 SEC) had a season of firsts in 2013 as they earned their first Top 25 ranking in school history and first NCAA tournament berth. After winning their first seven games, Arkansas entered the NSCAA poll, but tailed off after a challenging slate to open SEC play 1-3. After a big 4-0 win over Missouri in the SEC tournament, the Razorbacks lost to Florida in the quarterfinals. Arkansas was the last SEC team to make the NCAA tournament, but beat Oklahoma State and St. John's to make the Sweet 16 before losing in overtime to Duke. Entering 2014, the Razorbacks received votes in the NSCAA preseason poll, placing them as the sixth outside the Top 25. Junior forward Ashleigh Ellenwood led Arkansas with 14 goals and was second with seven assists. Arkansas begins its season Aug. 22 against Utah State. The non-conference slate features a marquee pair of matchups against ACC powerhouses Duke and North Carolina in Durham, N.C., before SEC play starts on Sept. 19 against Kentucky.
Auburn (8-9-4, 3-5-3 SEC) scraped its way into the SEC tournament for the 13th consecutive time with a regular season closing win over Alabama. Auburn's 2013 season was notable for a lack of consistency throughout the season. Wins of 2-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, and 6-0 in non-conference play turned into 7-0 and 3-0 losses in SEC play to Ole Miss and Florida. After a seven-game winless streak in SEC play, Auburn closed its season strong by winning its final three regular-season SEC games and beating LSU in the SEC tournament. The Tigers' season ended after a 1-0 loss to eventual SEC tournament champion Texas A&M. The 2013 season was the first season in which Auburn missed the NCAA tournament since 2005. Eight starters return for 2014, headlined by All-SEC defender Kala Faulkner. Faulkner, a junior, has started 46 games in her first two seasons and was second on the team in assists in 2013 with four. Sophomore forward Casie Ramsier led Auburn with nine goals. Auburn opens its 2014 campaign at Clemson on Aug. 22 before opening SEC play Sept. 21 against South Carolina.
Tennessee (8-7-4, 3-5-3) had their first losing conference season since 2009 and missed out on the SEC tournament in 2013. The Volunteers had some highlights, including against eventual AAC champion UCF in Orlando and SEC co-champion Texas A&M. SEC play started brightly for Tennessee with two wins and a tie in their first four games; unfortunately only one win remained on the schedule after six winless games. The season closed on an up note with a 3-0 win over Vanderbilt, but 2013 was largely a season of frustration. Six starters return for 2014, including senior defender Allie Sirna. Sirna has started all 63 games in her Tennessee career and has been a steadying presence on the backline. Tennessee's games tended to be tight, as they both scored and yielded the third-fewest number of goals in the SEC. Freshman midfielder Carlyn Baldwin has been representing the United States throughout the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup. Tennessee opens its schedule in Wisconsin with games against Milwaukee and Wisconsin. SEC play starts on Sept. 18 at defending SEC co-champion Texas A&M.
Alabama (6-12-0, 4-7-0 SEC) saw their season play out almost the opposite of Auburn's 2013. Alabama began SEC play with wins in three of their first four SEC games, followed by losses in six of their last seven (with the win being over last-place Mississippi State). A home loss to Auburn on the final day of the regular season ended Alabama's chances at qualifying for the SEC tournament. Alabama ended up with the second-worst goal differential at -0.83 goals per game, and yielded 70 more shots than they attempted. Junior goalkeeper Emily Rusk led the SEC in saves per game in 2013 with 5.06 but also gave up 32 goals in 16 games. Nine starters from 2013 return, including the top four scorers, led by senior forward Pia Rijsdijk. Rijsdijk led Alabama with seven goals and was second on the team with four assists. Alabama opens play on Aug. 22 versus Kennesaw State and starts SEC play at home against defending SEC co-champion Florida on Sept. 19.
Vanderbilt (4-12-3, 1-9-1 SEC) struggled for any success in 2013. The only SEC win came over Mississippi State (more on them in a moment), but the highlight of the season was a 4-3 win at then-No. 23 Wisconsin. Goal-scoring was not necessarily a problem, as the Commodores placed seventh in goals scored (37) just behind South Carolina. The defense, however, yielded 50 goals to place next to last in the SEC. If there's a positive to be gleaned, it is that Vanderbilt had freshmen in key positions that will be more experienced, with nine starters returning. All-Freshman forward Simone Charley is the leading returning scorer with five goals and was the team leader in assists with five. Goalkeeper Olivia Liebman placed fourth in the SEC in saves per game. The loss of the SEC's third leading scorer Cheyna Williams (16) via transfer to Florida State will offset the amount of returning experience. Vanderbilt opens its season Aug. 22 at home versus Mercer before opening its SEC slate Sept. 21 at Georgia.
Mississippi State (3-15, 0-11 SEC) hit its high point in 2013 early in the season, winning two thirds of its ultimate win total in the first three games of the year. Wins over Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic were only joined by a win over Jackson State. The best chances for SEC wins came against two of the top six teams, with overtime losses to Florida and LSU. State struggled at both ends of the pitch, finishing last in shots (227), goals scored (23) and goals against (53). This led to an average goal differential of -1.67, more than double the next-worst differential (Alabama, -0.83). Of the 23 goals scored, 16 were scored by departing forward Elisabeth Sullivan, who got drafted in the fourth round by the Portland Thorns in the National Women's Soccer League. Only six starters and seven letterwinners return, none of whom scored more than one goal or added more than two assists in 2013. Senior Shannen Jainudeen is one of the returning goal scorers and will be moved from defense to forward to offer experience up front. The Bulldogs open their season against Iowa State Aug. 22 before opening SEC play against in-state rival Ole Miss on Sept. 19.