Youth served on path to SEC soccer semifinals for Lady Vols

ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — If yellow and red make orange, and yellow and blue make green, then what does orange and green give you?

It's the current hue that shades the Tennessee women's soccer team that belies its inexperience.

With eight true freshmen playing integral roles, the Lady Vols' youth has served them well this fall.

No. 3 seed Tennessee (15-5) hopes its freshman will be fabulous against No. 7 seed Auburn (12-6-2) in the SEC tournament semifinals at 6 p.m. today at the Orange Beach Sportsplex. No. 4 Florida (15-6) plays No. 8 Alabama (10-7-3) in the other semifinal.

"It has been so exciting to come in and have the entire team welcome our class because there are a lot of us," said goalkeeper Julie Eckel, one of 11 freshmen in all. "This team is a great group of girls. It's a privilege to be a part of it."

Eckel has been a huge part of Tennessee's success this season.

A member of the SEC All-Freshman Team, the Cordova native has missed barely 15 minutes of a possible 1,800 in goal.

There have been other key first-year players, too. Defender Allie Sirna has started all 20 games and owns the team lead in minutes played.

Midfielder Lexi Krause has played in 17 games and boasts the lone freshmen goal. And forward Iyana Moore has assisted on two goals.

Six more have played in at least two games. Eckel credits the returning players for putting their egos aside and providing guidance for the younger ones.

"The veterans have been so generous with their time," she said. "It's nice to know freshmen can come in and play and the older players not worry about losing playing time."

It's the type of togetherness championship teams are made of.

Senior forward Chelsea Hatcher drew a close similarity between this year's group and her freshman campaign in 2008, the last time Tennessee won this tournament.

"It was one of the most united teams I've ever played on," Hatcher said. "The way we played as a team, no one could shut us down. We've had that kind of chemistry all season on this team. And, now, we all know the postseason is what we play for."

It's a resounding chorus for all four teams left here.

That's why no Lady Vol will be taking Auburn lightly tonight despite blanking the Tigers 2-0 last month at Regal Soccer Stadium in Knoxville.

"In the tournament," Tennessee coach Angela Kelly said, "you might have a common opponent you've played before, but you always expect a different team. This is Cup time. Win and advance.

"This conference has had teams nationally ranked all season. It's a privilege to make the tournament. Anytime you have an opportunity to be successful, you must respect your opponent. Otherwise, why compete?"

Kelly's bunch topped Kentucky 2-1 while Auburn upset LSU 3-0 in quarterfinal action Wednesday.

"We knew 10 days ago (at the first meeting), Auburn was a great team," Kelly said. "They've got a wonderful midfield. We need to be organized and be able to battle to have a chance to win."

Chuck Corder is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 1

budd#207344 writes:

If they focus this team can go very far. Keep your head and beat the tigers

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