The absence of sports from Auburn’s campus since March finally comes to an end this Friday as Auburn soccer makes its long-awaited debut as the first athletic event on campus this fall.
Soccer is usually the first fall sport to play each year, but this season is different. Head coach Karen Hoppa, entering her 22nd season as head coach of the Tigers, understands that it’s a season opener like no other.
“It feels really magnified and different,” Hoppa said Tuesday. “It’s opening week, and this is my 28th season as a head coach. There’s always a similar feel in opening week, and there's anticipation and excitement and all that; I feel that, but I also feel the weight of everything extra that COVID brings.”
Now the time is here. The Auburn Tigers will face the Mississippi State Bulldogs Friday night at the Auburn Soccer Complex. Not only is this the first game on campus, but it will also be the first SEC soccer game of the season.
It has been an unorthodox offseason for the Tigers. The team missed out on the spring exhibition season and about a week and a half ago, had to simulate an exhibition game to make up for the absence of those spring games.
Hoppa and her staff not only coached the full 90-minute simulated exhibition but also stepped in to help referee it. The Tigers also had the scoreboard on and played music to help reacquaint them with the typical game atmosphere.
“They’re as ready as they can be," Hoppa said. “We’ve had a lot of great scrimmages, we’ve tried to simulate an exhibition game, but we’ll see what it looks like. I know they’re excited to play, but I think it’s going to be 100 miles per hour when we start that game for both teams.”
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Auburn has played Mississippi State 24 times in soccer and heading into this season’s matchup, holds a 17-5-2 record over the Bulldogs.
Last season, the Bulldogs got the better of the Tigers with a 3-2 win over Auburn. In that contest, Auburn saw both of its goals come from seniors in Jessie Gerow and Bri Folds.
Folds, who led the Tigers in scoring last season with six goals, graduated and now plays for the Swedish professional team Kopparbergs Göteborg FC. At the same time, Gerow finished tied for second on the team with four goals.
Hoppa mentioned multiple players who have been working to step up for the Tigers, including team captain Kori Locksley.
“It’s a new team with new types of playmakers,” Hoppa said. “Kori Locksley is someone we’re going to have to rely on from the goal-scoring standpoint. She came on strong at the end of last season and was named a captain. She’s playing great, so she’s somebody we’re certainly going to look at.”
Other players mentioned were sophomore forward Sydney Richards and junior midfielder Hailey Whitaker.
Richard was an All-SEC freshman last year and is expected to play at a higher level this season. Hoppa said that Whitaker has been playing more in the attacking position and moving centrally, which will help the Tigers.
It has been a long process to get to this point, and Auburn is not taking things lightly. Fellow team captain Sara Houchin, a senior, is just looking forward to playing.
“We’re so excited we get to play," Houchin said. “It’s right here, and it seems almost not believable because we’ve been waiting so long for it to happen.”
Auburn kicks off versus Mississippi State Friday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on SEC Network.
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