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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn battles Top-5 Arkansas but falls at 2-0 at home

<p>Oct. 21, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA; Anna Haddock (4) looks dejected after falling at home to Arkansas.</p>

Oct. 21, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA; Anna Haddock (4) looks dejected after falling at home to Arkansas.

Auburn soccer lost to No. 4 Arkansas 2-0 making its second home loss this season. 

Auburn’s players couldn’t hide the disappointment drawn out across their faces as they somberly walked to the sideline after the match. The team had hoped to be the first Auburn squad to win the West since 2010. That hope was all but crushed when Arkansas came out and proved why it truly is a top-four team in the nation. 

Senior night may have been spoiled on the record book, but three Auburn seniors got their well-deserved time in the spotlight prior to the game, commemorating each of their achievements on the Plains. A ceremony was held before the match honoring Olivia Dedels, Rocio Sanders, Alyssa Malonson as well as their families for their years spent with the Tigers.

“Oh yeah, incredible. It’s an incredible group,” Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa said of her seniors. “It’s kind of an odd senior class. We had seven seniors on the roster but only three of them are leaving us after this season so that’s why we only honored the three. But, a really special group. 

Olivia Dedels and Rocio Sanders both have played a ton of minutes, didn’t play tonight, but played a ton of minutes over their careers. And Alyssa Malonson, what can you say about her. She has now started in more games in Auburn soccer history than any other player. Just a special player. We’re grateful to still have her and we’re excited to see what she can do at the next level next year.”

After a solid first 30 minutes of play with both teams seeing opportunities come and go due to active defense, Arkansas scored a 35th minute second-chance goal to take the lead before the half. After halftime, Arkansas was just the better team. 

Anna Podojil maintained her status as Arkansas’ leading scorer, knocking in her 10th goal of the season for the Razorback’s first score of the game. The forward is the single Southeastern Conference leader in multi-point games, and she made sure to get at least one point on Thursday. 

With the game still in balance, Arkansas lined up for a free kick just a few yards out of the Auburn goalies’ box. The ball was struck into the air and headed around a few times before being punched away by Auburn goalkeeper Maddie Prohaska. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the ball fell back into the box and at the feet of Podojil. The scoring phenom saw a chance and made good on her end, plunging the ball into the net.

Arkansas took a 1-0 lead just before the half with the goal seeming to have an effect on how the Tigers were playing. Auburn took three shots in the first 30 minutes. After the goal, Auburn took just three more shots in the entire other 60 minutes of the match. Once Arkansas started pressing, it just kept on and kept on, letting off 16 shots throughout the match with seven landing on target.

“We’ve gotta respond better in the second half and we’ve gotta do a better job protecting the ball against a really physical team," Hoppa said. "I thought Arkansas really did a good job matching us and being really physical against our dynamic offensive players. I think that’s something we need to learn from this game and do a better job of. Holding the ball and keeping it despite the physicality of the defense."

Senior M.E. Craven played one of her best games of the season against a talented Arkansas front forward. She repeatedly took on speedy undersized attackers one-on-one and seemed to win most every matchup. 

Parker Goins, who is second on the Razorbacks in goals scored, was racing through the middle of the field without a defender in sight and a goal in view. She took the ball 40 yards before trying to set up for a shot as Craven suddenly pounced in and stripped the ball from her. Craven paced Goins's run to a tee and came in from the left to dispossess the run just before a shot, showing just how experienced of a back she is.

Sophomore Mallory Mooney has been playing consistent, tough defense for a few weeks now, and she maintained that same level of performance against a Top-5 offense. She went down with a slide tackle early in the match but made her way back to her spot, standing firm against the next oncoming attack and winning the ball for her team to send it upfield from for a scoring chance.

Malonson showed out in her 92nd consecutive start, a start which goes down in history as the most consecutive starts by an Auburn soccer player in the program’s 28th year. Similar to Craven, she might not have been beaten one-on-one more than once or twice throughout the game. 

Her ability to take on forwards alone in space and come out with the ball at her feet made itself present tonight, even against stat-producing machines like the ones Arkansas puts on the pitch. 

”You know I thought overall our defense did a good job," Hoppa said. "They’re a legitimate Top-5 team no doubt about it. One of the top-scoring teams in the country and overall I thought our backs did a pretty good job.” 

On the other side of the ball, solid offensive looks just couldn’t be found by the Tigers after those first 30 minutes. Arkansas has allowed just 10 goals in 15 games played with its goalkeeping and defensive effort playing a massive part – alongside early leads that lead the team playing much freer and loose with the ball while increasing aggressiveness on the attack.

Auburn’s next two matchups are on the road and in its division. With the hope of winning the West fading away, No. 13 Ole Miss waits in Oxford as the Tigers regroup to focus on its next goal. Which is now its only goal. 

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“Obviously we’re disappointed because we had an opportunity to be first in the West if we could've gotten a result tonight," Hoppa said. "So, just try to refocus them on what we can control. If we can control the next two games – I don’t know this for a fact but I think from a mathematical standpoint we probably control getting a Top-4 seed still, and from a national picture this is a weekend where we’re playing two Top-20 teams. 

If you get a split, you’re in a really good position to still be a Top-25 team and have an opportunity to get a home game for the NCAAs. So that’s our focus at this point. It has to be. All our focus has to go into Sunday and trying to find a way to get a result on Sunday.”

Auburn (11-4) will go on the road to face Ole Miss (11-3-2) on Sunday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. CST. The SEC West matchup will be live streamed on SEC Network+.

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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