For head coach Karen Hoppa, the formula has become simple for her Auburn Tigers soccer team.
Throw everything but the kitchen sink at junior goalkeeper Sarah Le Beau, let senior goal scorer Kristen Dodson run the show on offense, and come home a winner.
Le Beau’s side of the equation turned in seven saves, while Dodson scored her eighth goal of the season in Auburn’s 1-0 upset over the No. 10 Florida Gators Sunday afternoon at the Auburn Soccer Complex.
Le Beau’s 19th career shutout suffocated the Gators in Auburn’s third straight victory over UF. The Crystal Lake, Illinois product showcased impressive athletic ability and timely decision making in the win.
“Really proud of the girls,” Hoppa said. “It wasn’t always our best soccer.”
Auburn (7-4-3, 4-1-2 SEC) struggled all afternoon with time of possession, something that Florida head coach Becky Burleigh stresses to her unit as a factor of extreme importance. The Gators lived on Auburn’s side of the field, evident in the team’s 12 shots and 7 corner kicks on the day.
Save long kicks out ahead to Dodson in the box, and you would be hard-pressed to find an effective Auburn offense in the first half. Hoppa’s group spent most of the opening period trying to fend off the aggressive Gators and take some stress off the shoulders of Le Beau.
The home squad in the orange and blue adjusted and found their groove after halftime.
“Florida is a great team and they really pressed us hard,” Hoppa said. “Our team dug deep and found a way to win. I thought our defensive effort was phenomenal. [Le Beau] was on fire, at whole ‘nother level.
Le Beau continued her trend of locking down the attacking Gators, however the Auburn offense began to regain control and execute plays past the 45th minute. Most of those plays consisted of pushing Dodson downfield, a strategy that paid off on Sunday like it has all season for the Tigers.
In the 53rd minute, freshman Alyssa Malonson rifled a kick past midfield to a streaking Dodson, who had just a step on her defender. The senior succeeded in the one-on-one matchup with Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese, crushing a shot into the left side of the goal to draw first and only blood.
“We had to know when to go full-force,” Dodson said. “We all had to go with our numbers, I think that really helped us.”
Hoppa continued to look to Dodson for an offensive spark until the final buzzer. Dodson attacked less than a minute later for a shot that sailed just above the head of Marckese and almost went in again.
After that close call, Florida (11-4, 5-2 SEC) elected to double-team the juggernaut scorer for the remainder of the contest.
One of those double-teams resulted in a hard hit from the Florida defenders near the UF goal, with less than five minutes to go, a play after which fans were pleading for a red card. Dodson had to be helped off by team trainers and didn’t return.
The team’s leading scorer wasn’t favoring her leg and was all smiles after the win.
“Yeah, I just cramped,” Dodson laughed. “I’m good.”
The team’s last home match of 2017 will be on Oct. 22 vs. LSU at 5 p.m. CT. With only three games left in conference play before the SEC Tournament ramps up on Oct. 30 in Orange Beach, Alabama, Dodson believes her squad has the potential to replicate last season’s magical postseason run.
“We just continue to get better. That’s what you have to do. Hopefully we’ll play our best soccer at the end.”