Auburn soccer bounced back as M.E. Craven scored the goal of her career with a 3-0 win over Southeastern Conference West rival Texas A&M.
An overly aggressive Texas A&M tackle led to a free kick near about the half field mark, that seemed well out out of range for a shot on goal, or so Texas A&M thought.
Senior defender M.E. Craven launched the ball into the air about 65 yards from goal on the other side of the midfield mark. The spiraling checkered ball fell back to the field with such a force that it bounced over the head of the Aggie goalkeeper, who drew herself out of the net and then watched the ball roll past her fingertips untouched for the first goal of the game just 19 minutes into the first period.
“Really happy with [the team’s performance],” said head coach Karen Hoppa. “I think the response we had today was just outstanding. Really proud of my team. Thought we played great soccer, fixed some problems that we had at Knoxville and obviously created a ton of offense. And our defense giving up zero shots on goal to a very good A&M team, really proud of our performance.”
Auburn wouldn’t be content with the fluke goal.
The Tigers began pressing and let off five shots in the first half while drawing foul after foul from the flustered Aggie defenders, one of which was inside the goalie’s box and led to a Sydney Richards penalty kick.
Richards faked a stutter step and forced Aggie goalkeeper Kenna Caldwell to fall to her left as Richards simultaneously nonchalantly rolled the ball to the other side of the net and scored the Tigers second goal of the game.
“I've taken a PK in a game before and so I kinda just usually stick with my side and have confidence in my side and luckily she went the other way, so it worked out,” Richards said. “I just try to take a deep breath and stay calm.
Yeah, I mean my first thought was just that we needed to get ahead of them and obviously they’re a really great team and also the in the West division, so honestly it was good to get on top of them and stay on top of them.”
The pressured Aggies’ defense kept its offense in limbo and made it hard to keep the ball and create long drives. Texas A&M had only three shots taken in the second half, none of which were on goal.
Auburn’s defensive back line held the Aggies to zero shots on goal throughout the entirety of the 90-minute contest. The Tigers, who are missing a starting defender in Madeline Moore, shifted around the back line and moved usual forward and midfielder Hailey Whitaker to defensive back.
Whitaker is fast on her feet in split-second decisions and isn’t afraid to muscle a defender off of the ball when making her offensive runs, making her a great fit for the Tigers usual aggressive defensive game plan.
“You know losing Madeline Moore caused us three changes in the back and one change up top and it was quite a big loss for us, but you know Hailey, really proud of her," Hoppa said. "She's filled in the backline for us through her career, not a lot, but here and there so we felt like she was a good option.
And with Tennessee’s pace we knew we needed the speed that Haley brings, but she’s a captain, wants to play up top. She didn’t even hesitate when we asked her to try playing in the back at practice. She stepped right up, and she’s done an outstanding job and listen, she’s done it for two games, and she’s only gonna get better from here.”
Auburn's star offensive player, Anna Haddock, got on the board in yet another Auburn win after sinking in the Tiger's second penalty kick of the day after Aggie midfielder Kendall Bates took a Tiger attacker to the ground in the goalies' box. Haddock leads the Tigers in scoring as she knocked in her eighth goal of the season in just 10 games played.
The Tigers continue the start of their SEC schedule with a matchup against South Carolina in Columbia, on Friday, Oct. 1. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m. CST and will be live streamed on the SEC+ network.
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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.