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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn soccer: 2021-22 preview

<p>Auburn’s soccer team practices at Auburn Soccer Complex on Aug 4, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA. Photo via: Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics</p>

Auburn’s soccer team practices at Auburn Soccer Complex on Aug 4, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA. Photo via: Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics

The first pair of cleats to hit the grass this fall in regular-season action for Auburn athletics will be worn by the women’s soccer team on Thursday, as they kick off the fall season with a road game against Samford.

The Tigers are coming off of a 10-5-3 record with three conference wins, as well as a double-overtime win against Louisville during the 2020-21 season. This year’s Auburn squad will look to bounce back from last year’s NCAA tournament miss; it was narrowly left out of the tournament despite winning five straight games against Georgia, Louisville, Alabama, South Alabama and Virginia Tech in the 2021 spring season. 

When it comes to winning low scoring games, goal security is arguably one of the most necessary components of soccer.

Sophomore Maddie Prohaska provides just that for the Auburn squad. Sporting No. 00, the 2020 SEC All-Freshman, two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week and two-time SEC Freshman of the Week will look to follow her award-studded freshman season with another as she takes her place in the goal for the Tigers. 

Prohaska led Auburn to six solo shutouts in her freshman season and turned in a 0.80 goals against average, marking the fourth best average in program history. It was lowest average since 2004, along the way to being named Auburn’s Rookie of the Year. 

"We have such an amazing team with great chemistry and such amazing knowledge like Sara Houchin and Alyssa Malonson," Prohaska said to The Plainsman last spring. "Those people that you get to look up to, and I think especially my first semester, I just wanted to lean on to all that knowledge and kinda learn from them and grow from them." 

While solid goalkeeping is one of the most important parts of the game defensively, the other 10 players on the pitch have to match the energy on the offensive side of the ball if they want to try to crack the opposing goalkeeper. 

The Tigers have a trio of midfielders and forwards more than capable of keeping opposing defenses rearing, starting with sophomore Olivia Candelino at forward. 

Candelino opened her game up near the end of the Tigers 2021 spring season, earning herself a start in the final eight games of the schedule. In eight starts, she landed three goals in the back of the net, including a 1-0 game-winner against Georgia. That performance earned her SEC Freshman of the Week honors. 

Auburn, like most other teams, thrive off of experience and minutes logged on the pitch. Not many players have more minutes logged than fifth-year senior, Alyssa Malonson. A staple piece of the Auburn midfield for consecutive years, Malonson played over 1350 minutes on the pitch last season, while appearing in all 18 regular-season contests. 

The Houston, Texas, native is tied for second-most assists in the 2020-21 season for the Tigers, including an assist on the game-winning goal against LSU in overtime. 

Malonson picked up more than just SEC attention last season, as she was selected by the North Carolina Courage in the 2021 National Women's Soccer League Draft in January. 

It was Auburn’s second highest draft selection in program history. 

Malonson immediately committed to playing the 2021-22 season with the Tigers after the draft.

“I want to thank my family, coaches and teammates for shaping me into the player and person I am today," Malonson said after being drafted. "I wouldn’t be in this position without them. I’m extremely blessed to be a part of the Auburn family and I’m not done yet. Thank you and War Eagle!”

To round out the trio of attackers is Oak Mountain, Alabama, native Hailey Whitaker. 

She was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after a goal and two assists in a 3-0 win against South Alabama last season. Whitaker is known as a shot-taking machine on the Tiger roster, landing shots like one against rival Alabama that secured a 2-1 victory for Auburn.

Starting 16 games at forward and midfield for the Tigers, Whitaker took 28 shots with 13 on goal (.464 shot on goal percentage), while also recording multiple shots in each of the five final games of the season. 

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Simply put, she’s not afraid to let the ball fly.

This year is not a walk in the park for the Tigers, they will face six top-25 ranked teams in the regular season.

Auburn's home opener is No. 12 BYU, a fast-paced start that only gets faster with the Tiger’s loaded SEC schedule. The Tigers will play a few in-state schools like Troy, UAB and Alabama A&M, before facing off against the defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Florida State at home.

Non-conference opponents aside, this SEC slate of games is packed with top teams. The Tigers will face Georgia, Tennessee and No. 9 Texas A&M all before October starts. After playing Florida and LSU at the Auburn Soccer Complex, the Tigers will take on the SEC preseason ranked No. 1 and nationally ranked No. 10 Arkansas to cap off a streak of three home games in a row.

Auburn then ends its run of SEC opponents with back-to-back away games at Ole Miss and rival Alabama to finish the regular season. Following the final week of regular season games will be the SEC tournament, which will take place from Oct. 31–Nov. 7. 

It all begins on Thursday, Aug. 19 at 7:00 p.m. CST as the Tigers travel to Samford in their season opener. The game will be broadcast on ESPN-plus.

Auburn 2021-22 Schedule

at Samford

vs. No. 12 BYU

at Troy

at South Alabama

vs. UAB

vs. UT-Chattanooga

vs. Alabama A&M

at. No. 1 Florida State

vs. Georgia

at Tennessee

vs. No. 9 Texas A&M

at. No. 15 South Carolina

at Mississippi State

vs. LSU

vs. Florida

vs. No. 10 Arkansas

at No. 23 Ole Miss

at Alabama

Larry Robinson | Photo Editor

Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman. 

Twitter: @ReportingLarry

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