Alabama soccer prepares for its third NCAA Tournament appearanceBy Ben Stansell | 11/08/2017 8:28pm
Alabama’s soccer team made history on Monday by becoming the third group to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament in program history, but the Crimson Tide’s players are not satisfied yet.
Although they’ve already rewritten the Alabama record books, they have their sights set on becoming the first Alabama team to advance past the first round, which they can accomplish with a road win against Clemson on Friday.
In its first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1998, Alabama was defeated by Texas A&M 3-1. In its second tournament showing in 2011, Alabama lost to Miami 3-2 in a double-overtime classic.
“We already have in our mindset that we made a little bit of history being the third team to go,” freshman forward Chloe Maize said. “But that’s not enough for us. Coach always tells us to be happy but not satisfied, and I think that’s the mindset that we are going into this game with.”
Alabama has been utilizing this mindset as motivation during practices this week, and Coach Wes Hart is pleased with the energy it is generating among his players.
“This week of training has been excellent,” Hart said. “Just the energy level that has been there has been great.”
Hart also attributes the increased vitality to his team’s first-round loss to Missouri in the SEC tournament two weeks ago. While the 3-1 loss may have impacted Alabama’s chances at hosting a first round NCAA Tournament game, it has provided Alabama’s players with time to recharge and recuperate after a long and grueling season. With the exception of freshman Kaley Verpeale, who tore her ACL midway through the season, all of Alabama’s players are healthy and available to play on Friday.
“Pretty much as healthy as we’ve been all year long,” Hart said. “We’re pretty happy with where we’re at physically.”
The Crimson Tide has utilized its extra time to scout and prepare for a 9-5-3 Clemson team Hart described as well-coached and athletic. Similar to Alabama, Clemson posted an impressive record against non-conference opponents but struggled against ACC foes, finishing with a 3-4-3 conference record. Alabama’s game plan against the Tigers involves turning the game into a territorial battle by putting intense pressure on Clemson and forcing them to keep the ball to one side of the pitch, according to senior midfielder Celia Jimenez Delgado.
For Jimenez Delgado, Friday’s showdown against Clemson in the first round is exactly what Alabama’s players have been working diligently towards the entire season.
“I think the team has worked really hard this season,” Jimenez Delgado said. “And now at the end we got this game and the NCAA run that we wanted and dreamed about in the beginning.”
Ready and raring to play, Alabama will square off against Clemson in the first round of NCAA Tournament action at 6 p.m. Central Time this Friday at Historic Riggs Field.