By any measure, soccer coach Karen Hoppa has had a very successful coaching career. On the field, Hoppa has compiled a 217-140-32 record and has reached the NCAA Tournament 15 times since her arrival on The Plains in 1999. She has coached 58 All-SEC selections and 12 All-Americans.
Auburn heads into Thursday’s game at Vanderbilt with a 7-5-4 record and in fourth place in the SEC. That record includes a 6-1-2 mark at Auburn Soccer Complex. Senior Kristen Dodson leads the team with eight goals and has the Tigers in position to reach the SEC Tournament for the 16th consecutive year.
Off the field, Hoppa has seen countless student-athletes grow to become great Auburn women and leaders in the community.
“As a coach that’s the number one thing,” Hoppa said. “Obviously, we want to win and be successful on the field, but at the end of the day the thing I’m most proud of is the way our players can impact other people’s lives, especially kids. The kids come on the field and look up to our girls. That’s a really neat feeling. They are such great role models for our community.”
After every home game, the team offers young fans the chance to meet and interact with the student-athletes. While this can sometimes be tedious for players, it allows Hoppa the opportunity to see first-hand the impact her team can have on others.
One girl took the opportunity to meet her favorite player and inspiration, midfielder/forward Ellie Leek.
“We had senior day the other day, and there was a tweet from a mom of a kid who wears number 13 because Ellie Leek wears 13 and has taken the time to talk to the kid after every game. To the point where [Leek] has a relationship with her and [the kid] wants to be like Ellie,” Hoppa said.
Those interactions may be small, but they mean a lot to Hoppa and her team. They exemplify the growth in opportunity for female student-athletes at Auburn over the years. As recently as the early 1990s, Auburn wasn’t even in compliance with Title IX due to the small ratio of male-female athletes.
“Now our student-athletes are getting treated in the same first class manner,” Hoppa said. “The same gear, the same tutors, the same support. And that’s really neat that our female student-athletes can experience that. And that’s because of all the Auburn women that came before them, that have grown females at this university to the point that they are equals.”
The term ‘Auburn man,’ is used a lot to describe male students. ‘Auburn woman’ is used much more sparingly. But Hoppa is quick to point out what makes her players great Auburn women.
“I think [they have] the same characteristics of an Auburn man that people have been talking about forever.
“Somebody with high character, strong moral values, and a high work rate. Obviously, also a love for Auburn.”