Auburn kicked off the 2022 season with a 1-0 victory over Old Dominion, thanks to a decisive goal from junior midfielder Anna Haddock.
“"Tonight was a really good start," Haddock said. "Under the circumstances, we rose through the adversity. There were some really promising things out there. I think if the ball bounces a couple of different ways, then the score sheet looks a little different. The grit and overall determination are something we can build on."
The Tigers didn't come in expecting an easy win in the season opener, as Old Dominion, who is spending its first season in the Sun Belt, was picked to win the eastern division of its conference.
Last season, the Monarchs won the Conference USA Tournament on its way to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
Furthermore, Auburn was without head coach Karen Hoppa due to illness and also missing sophomore defender LJ Knox. Associate head coach Ben Madsen served as the head coach for the season opener, and the defense had no trouble, shutting out Old Dominion.
“First off, we're thinking about LJ and obviously, Coach (Hoppa)," Madsen said. "It's been a long couple of days, but I think the kids responded with their play, and we're real proud of them. Tonight, I saw a team that showed grit, fight and never gave up. That's all we ask for."
Auburn had its fair number of chances within the first 10 minutes but was unable to find the net. Haddock had her first shot from the top of the box saved, while redshirt junior Marissa Arias saw her prime chance of a goal fade as a heavy touch forced her into a shot off target.
Old Dominion finally recorded its first shot 30 minutes into the game after some flashy linkup play saw the Monarchs reach the box, but goalkeeper Maddie Prohaska came out of goal to record an easy save near the touchline.
The missed chances for Auburn continued later in the half, creating a theme for the Tigers through the first 45 minutes of play.
With six minutes remaining until halftime, Sabrina McNeill saw a clever pass fall to her feet at the top of the box, but McNeill lost her balance while taking the shot resulting in a weak shot that rolled into Old Dominion’s Erin Jones’ hands for a routine save.
After 45 minutes, the whistle sounded and the two teams remained deadlocked without a goal. Auburn attempted five shots in the first half and was in good position for many of them, but all fell off target.
Meanwhile, the backline for Auburn stood strong, holding the Monarchs to three shots with just one on target.
The defense also got involved in the attack with Hailey Whitaker consistently providing some danger at left back - getting up field with some fancy dribbling and feeding the forwards in the middle of the pitch.
The theme of missed opportunities for the Tigers was finally erased inside the first 10 minutes of the second half. After the Monarchs were dispossessed in their own half, Haddock corralled the ball and went towards goal.
With her eyes set on giving Auburn the lead, the junior blew past her defender and guided one into the left side of the net - rooting the keeper to her spot and putting the Tigers on top 1-0.
Fifteen minutes later, Old Dominion won a free kick. In desperate need of a goal, the Monarchs worked a tricky free kick to see its best chance of the game.
However, the Auburn backline, being called upon for the first time in the second half, answered the call. They threw their body at the shot, blocking it, then clearing the ball without surrendering the lead.
For the final 20 minutes, the Auburn defense continued its dominating performance - knocking away crosses, putting in key tackles to stop in attack and, most importantly, holding possession to drain the clock and lead Auburn to a season-opening 1-0 win.
Next up, the Tigers face Southern Miss on Sunday at home in its second game of the season. The game will take place at 2 p.m. CST at the Auburn Soccer Complex.
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Jacob is a sophomore from Leeds, Alabama. This is his second year with The Auburn Plainsman.