The fall semester is just around the corner, and with it comes the opening of the Auburn athletics schedule. The soccer team kicks off the incoming fall semester, that is full of sports, with an exhibition game against Georgia Southern on August 8.
The team comes into this season with a chip on their shoulder after an early elimination in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of in-state neighbor Samford. With that game in mind, this fall will be an effort in overcoming that conclusion.
“Last season, we all felt disappointed with the way it ended,” said head coach Karen Hoppa. “We had a great regular season. We took a massive step forward from the year before and then got upset in NCAA Tournament. We feel like there's unfinished business.”
Auburn fell to Samford 2-0 on November 12 to end last season after beating the Bulldogs 2-1 earlier in the season, which only proves that the game was capable of being won by the Tigers. The wait in itself between that contest and the season has been unusual, making the loss sit on the mind that much more.
“It's the first time for our rising juniors that they had to wait through a spring before they can have a season again,” Hoppa said. “It's been a long wait with that result in the back of all of our minds haunting us…I think I look at it as a feeling of unfinished business.”
Hoppa’s team brings back a large junior class that hold a large role throughout the club, but those juniors played through COVID-19 and a pair of unusual seasons. Therefore, this wait has been the longest stretch they have waited to play in their college careers. Anticipation is building.
Six of those juniors hold starting roles and they are setting the foundation for what will finally be an older roster after Hoppa and staff worked in recent years with teams loaded with underclassmen. They will be key in providing leadership to the incoming class of six freshmen.
The big name on the Auburn offense is Anna Haddock, a junior midfielder who scored a team-best nine goals in the 2021 season. Number four brings an elite skillset that translates to some beautiful goals.
Behind Haddock on the backline is another junior, midfielder/forward Mallory Mooney, who will be a veteran presence beside youngsters like L.J. Knox and Carly Thatcher who worked through freshman year to become assets in the rotation.
In addition to the team being excited from inside the program, their opening games could be a major factor in getting fall athletics off to a strong start. Students begin returning to town right as games begin, so both fans and players should have an interest in how these first games shake out.
“I just feel like there's something about being under the lights on a Thursday or Friday night that isn't like anything else. It's one thing to go to a football game,” said junior goalkeeper Maddie Prohaska. “You don't really get to immerse yourself into what the game is really like, but coming out to a soccer game, you're there and your voice is heard by every person in the stadium.”
Prohaska is starting in goal for the third year in a row and practically serves as a coach on the field. She logged 56 saves last year while starting all 20 games, good for a save percentage of .700.
The intimate setting she discussed is what makes the Auburn Soccer Complex a venue on campus where every fan can make a difference. Soccer is a sport where individual goals often decide the result and having an active crowd often swings games in Auburn’s favor.
“I'm hoping the Auburn community and the Auburn students pick up on where we left off for the last athletic year, and we saw what the crowds did for men's basketball, gymnastics and baseball, especially in the postseason for baseball,” Hoppa said. “Those are the crowds we want to see carry into soccer because this team's potential is unlimited and home field advantage makes a massive, massive difference.”
Auburn soccer opens its home schedule with an exhibition against Georgia Southern on August 8 at 6:30 p.m. CST. It is followed by another exhibition five days later at Memphis before the official season opener on August 18 versus Old Dominion.
“I think there was a great foundation set in the last few years, and I think the potential for this team is really unlimited,” Hoppa said. “We can't wait to see the Auburn Family out in the stadium on August 18.”
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Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.