Jaguar Soccer Travels to FSU for the First Round of the NCAA Tournament

November 14, 2014 · By · Filed Under NCAA, Soccer, Sun Belt Conference 

USA_SoccerThe South Alabama soccer team makes their second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament with a familiar opponent waiting for them. The #1 seeded Florida State Seminoles.

South Alabama (19-2-1) will meet the Seminoles (18-1-1) in Tallahassee in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament appearance where FSU won 5-0. But the Jaguars look avenge that loss.

The two schools have a history that dates back to 1996 where they have met on the pitch in Tallahassee four out of six times, with the ‘Noles holding a dominant 6-0 record.

Both teams enter the match with impressive unbeaten streaks. The Jags enter with an 18 match unbeaten streak dating back to an August 31 loss to Kennesaw State while the Seminoles are undefeated in their last 15 matches dating back to a 2-1 loss to #5 Florida on September 5.

FSU has some impressive wins under their belt this season. They defeated #10 Notre Dame 3-1 and #4 Virginia 1-0 to claim the ACC title as they went 9-0-1 in conferece play as they try to win their first National Championship.

Seven Seminoles earned All-ACC honors including offensive player of the year.

South Alabama earned the SBC’s automatic berth by winning the conference tournament with most outstanding player Charde Hannah. They outscored their three opponents in the tournament 6-1 with freshmen Hannah and Rio Hardy accounting for all the goals en route to joining three teammates on the All-Tournament team.

“We’re absolutely buzzing,” Jaguar head coach Graham Winkworth said. “I’m not sure many people believed when my staff and I arrived that we could go from 217 (in the RPI) in the nation to a team that’s being considered for at-large bids now. It’s a huge accomplishment for the girls and I’m really excited.

“One of the things that gets me most excited is that we’ve done it with two different squads. We inherited a good bunch of girls that just needed to be shown a few things and they worked extremely hard to get to the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime we had to recruit a new team as well, with a few of the older girls remaining. We managed to repeat and take another step forward. It’s a great feeling and we’re excited to have another crack at one of the best, if not the best, team in the nation.”

“It’s more of an experience thing. Last year we went in there starry-eyed,” Winkworth said about the difference between last year and this year. “We need to show respect to our opponents, but at the same time, we need to play without fear. We need to understand that we’re here because we’ve earned it. We deserve to be here and I’m really proud of the girls. What an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country.”

“They’re very similar to last year,” Winkworth noted. “They’ve returned most of those players from last year. They lost a couple of key ones, but they’ve been replaced with excellent players. To be honest, they have so many talented players, they can only play 11 at one time, so it’s OK for them to have 16 or 17 top stars. We understand they have a lot of threats, not only in open play, but also from set pieces too. We have to do our very best to prepare for those as well as we can.”

“We’ve gone quite a few games without a defeat now and that’s going to breed confidence through the team,” Winkworth said. “During that period we’ve played some very good opponents, including a much-improved Sun Belt Conference. The conference ranking nationally is much higher than this time last year. For us to beat teams of that caliber before the NCAA Tournament is a big momentum builder for us, as well as a confidence boost. We’ve done it with such a young team as well; the future of this program is very bright.”

South Alabama and Florida State get underway at 6pm CST at the Seminole Soccer Complex.

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