Auburn soccer (8-2-0) prepares for one of its toughest battles of the season, as the team travels to Columbia to face off against No. 17 South Carolina (8-2-0), who is unbeaten in SEC play.
South Carolina stands alone at the top of the SEC East division with the team’s only two losses coming from one-score games against Top 25 opponents. The Gamecocks fell 2-1 at No. 18 Clemson and 2-1 at home to No. 19 Virginia Tech.
“We have to make the most of our opportunities,” said Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa. “We’re on the road against one of the best defensive teams in the country. When we get a chance, we have to take that chance.”
Like South Carolina, Auburn has also already faced two Top 25 opponents midway into the season. The Tigers won 2-1 at home against then-ranked No. 15 BYU and lost 2-1 at home to No. 1 Florida State. The Tigers' other loss of the season was an overtime golden-goal defeat at Tennessee last week.
Defense will be the name of the game.
Holding 10 opponents to eight goals on the season, Auburn’s defense will be tested by South Carolina, who has had nine different players score this season. Sophomore and junior forwards Corinna Zullo and Eveleen Hahn lead the team in scoring with four goals apiece as the Gamecock’s collectively average 13 shots per game.
Auburn’s defense, led by seniors M.E. Craven and Alyssa Malonson, will look to minimize the number of shots taken by the Gamecock’s front forward, while maintaining an aggressive mark-up defense to limit the Gamecock’s 20 assists entering the match. Limiting second-chance opportunities should be a focal point for the Tigers' defensive game plan.
Auburn isn’t the only team in this matchup with a staunch defense.
South Carolina has played the same amount of games as the Tigers, but have allowed one less goal, averaging an impressive 0.72 average of opponent’s goals per game. The Gamecocks' key to success has been limiting opponents to just 7.4 shots per game, well below the Tigers’ average entering the matchup.
The Tigers will have to power past recent SEC Defensive Player of the Week in senior midfielder Jyllissa Harris. Harris is credited with being the anchor of the South Carolina back line. The senior has claimed three career SEC Defensive Player of the Week titles, while also being named to the All-SEC First Team after last year's season.
Harris bounces around from midfield to center back, playing whichever position best suits the Gamecocks at the time, showing her versatility and significance for the team’s success.
Goalkeeping and Goal scoring:
Behind Auburn’s defensive back line is a 5-foot-9 sophomore inside the Tiger’s goal posts. Maddie Prohaska, the goalie of the SEC’s 2020 All-Freshman team, is backing her award-studded freshman season with another impressive season. Prohaska averages a notable 0.79 average of opponents’ goals per game.
Prohaska had a season-high six shots saved in Auburn’s 2-1 loss at Tennessee as the Vols laid on 19 shots throughout the match.
If the Gamecocks get that many shots off on Friday, trouble is in the air for the visiting Tigers.
5-foot-7 Heather Hinz has started all 10 games in goal for the Gamecocks, with her best performance coming against Kentucky when the sophomore faced 10 shots, but let only one slip past her into goal.
No team has scored more than two goals against South Carolina and Hinz this season.
Similarly, the same goes for Auburn and Prohaska.
If any team can change that statistic against South Carolina, it’s the Tigers.
Auburn averages a whopping 17.8 shots a game and had a season-high 49 shots against Alabama A&M while holding the Lady Bulldogs to zero shots taken in the 90-minute contest. A full-team performance that Auburn will look to replicate on Friday.
Anna Haddock is Auburn’s star on offense, leading the Tigers with 8 goals and 38 shots taken in just 10 games.
The Bowling Green, Kentucky, native was named to the Freshman Best XI team last season after scoring two goals, a personal best record she broke just two games into this 2021-22 season.
Auburn has more offensive weapons than just Haddock, however.
Sydney Richards was named to the Top Drawer Team of the Week’s honorable mention list after taking two shots and scoring a penalty kick in Auburn’s 3-0 win over Texas A&M on Sunday. Though she has yet to play a full 90-minute match for the Tigers, Richards makes the most out of her playing time and recorded a brace against UAB on just three shots taken.
On the other side of the field is Marissa Arias, who is 2nd on the team in points scored with four goals to her name. Arias has scored in two of Auburn’s last three games, also recording a brace against Alabama A&M in Auburn’s blowout 5-0 win.
With such an exuberant amount of talent on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to predict what kind of game will develop on Friday. If either team gets out to a hot shooting start and start to rack up shots on goal, the score may be a little higher than the defensive matchup that is expected. If both defenses lock down and make it hard to create openings, this game may go down to the wire.
How to Watch
o When: Friday at 6 p.m. CST
o Where: Stone Stadium – Columbia, South Carolina
o TV/Online Streaming: SECN+
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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.