Every single player and coach had a grin stretched across their face as they walked to greet fans on the sideline, knowing they had each etched their names into an unchangeable history book.
Written in that book will be that Auburn soccer 2021-22 is on a 10-0-0-win streak dating back to last season, the longest such streak in program history. Auburn is now a perfect 5-0-0 on the season. Previously, seven Auburn teams had started 4-0-0 or better.
Auburn secured this record by taking down a tough UT Chattanooga 3-0. The game featured unstoppable defense and a lot of pressure from the Tigers.
As if program history isn’t enough, with Sunday’s win, the Tigers also claim the longest active win streak in D1 soccer. Combined with the highest national rank in program history and a win against a Top-15 ranked opponent for the first time in four years, Auburn soccer is making incredible strides this season.
“It’s a really, really good defensive team and I thought Chattanooga did a good job in their defensive game plan, it created a lot of problems for us to try to solve,” said head coach Karen Hoppa. "I was really happy with my team in the second half trying to apply the changes we made to try to solve the defensive puzzle that Chattanooga presented, and really proud of the growth of our team from first half to second half.
The biggest thing is trying to get better every game, I don’t think we played our best soccer yet, I still don’t think we have."
The 3-0 win over UT Chattanooga didn’t come as easy as the box score made it look. The Chattanooga Mocs had a set game plan to slow down the pace and effectiveness of the Tigers' top player. They flooded the midfield with bodies to ensure Auburn wouldn’t have an easy path to goal.
This plan mostly worked. The Tiger attackers were forced to lob in cross after cross from each of the sidelines as they couldn’t break through the Mocs' final back line. While generating opportunities for headers and corner kicks, the Tigers knew they had to find a different kind of attack if they were to open the game up on the scoreboard.
Anna Haddock shined again as she has in most matches this season. The No. 4 midfielder lined up to take a corner kick just 10 seconds into the second half with the match still tied 0-0. She struck the ball from the corner flag with such force that it curled past all 21 players in the box and landed in the back of the goal, marking Haddock’s fourth goal in five contests this season.
“The first half was obviously really frustrating for us,” Haddock said. “They packed it in really well and stuck to that game plan so I think we went big right off the kickoff. I saw the opportunity and I tried to bend it in as best as I could and put it in for someone to get a head on it. The ball did the work itself and went right in the goal off the corner kick.”
Instead of being content with the 1-0 lead, the Tigers stomped their foot down on the pedal and began pressing offensively. The Tigers would put up 24 shots with nine on goal, leading to 13 corners throughout the contest.
Forward Olivia Candelino stepped up the Tigers. Forward Haley Whittaker drew the Moc goalie outside of the goal and slipped the ball to Candelino, who turned on her heels and lifted a curving ball into the far corner of the net, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the 81st minute.
Just 42 seconds later, Candelino once again had the ball at her feet inside of the goalies’ box and slipped yet another high-arching ball over the goalie into the same spot in the back left of the net.
“Madeline hit a great ball over the top and I just saw I had the space to go 1v1 and took it on my soft spot with my left foot," Candelino said. "So [I was] really happy to get two goals and really blessed to have such a great game alongside my teammates. I thought we had a really good team performance."
Assisting on the goal to Candelino, Whittaker also made an impact on the defensive side of the ball. Forwards are usually thought to be most effective on the offensive side of the ball, but Whittaker flipped the script and became the Tiger’s most active defender throughout the pitch.
Showing off her high motor by sprinting around the field and physically forcing attackers off the ball in Auburn’s final third before slicing up midfield to intercept a pass before it could reach its target, Whittaker kept the Mocs in check.
The Tiger defense can take a lot of credit as UT Chattanooga didn’t get a single shot off in the entire 90-minute match. The Mocs were held to zero shots taken and just one corner, exemplifying the voracious Tiger defense up and down the field.
“The effort of the team was tremendous," Hoppa said. "We were really frustrated at halftime and that’s credit to Chattanooga. Really proud of them keeping the pressure on and Candelino, what two brilliant goals by her, to go up 3-0…I was really pleased they kept the energy up even late in the game when it’s so hot."
The Tigers will go on to host Alabama A&M at home on Thursday, Sept. 9 before hosting No. 1 ranked and defending national champion FSU at home on Sunday, Sept. 12.
“All of our focus needs to be on Thursday night," Hoppa said. "Take care of business there and then frankly when we play Florida State, pressures off. They’re the best team in the country, they’ve won so many national championships, all the pressures on them. For us, that game is gonna be a great learning experience.
I think we’re certainly gonna wanna build on the BYU performance, we’re gonna have to defend the way we did against BYU, probably better. Build on that performance and you know for us, it’s a test. We don’t wanna be at our best right now, we want to be at our best in November and we don’t do that without challenging the girls and playing the best teams in the country."
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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.