Tinaya Alexander is one of a handful of current LSU soccer players who can recall the euphoria of the program’s breakthrough moment in 2018 winning their first Southeastern Conference tournament.
She’s also well versed in an injury-filled season last year where the Tigers didn’t qualify for the tournament, sparking a coaching change.
“Coming off such a high and then to go to such a low is an awful thing,” Alexander said. “This is a rebuilding season and I think with our coaching staff we have, that won’t happen again. I’ll tell the first-year players to try and make the best of the opportunity.”
No. 14 seed LSU, 0-6-2 in a coronavirus-shortened season, opens play in the single-elimination SEC tournament against No. 11 Alabama (2-4-2) at 6 p.m. Friday at the Orange Beach (Ala.) Sportsplex which will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
The LSU-Alabama winner advances to Sunday’s second round to face No. 6 Ole Miss at 2:30 p.m.
“There’s a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to hit the reset button and have a second opportunity,” Tigers’ first-year coach Sian Hudson said. “Obviously, the results haven’t been favorable, but I think there’s been two or three games in conference play where the result could have gone differently. The confidence and morale, even though we haven’t had a lot of success, is good.”
LSU’s extremely encouraged by its last meeting with Alabama where the Oct. 23 encounter in Baton Rouge turned into a survival of the fittest that ended in a 3-3 tie in overtime.
The match turned into the official coming out party for Alexander, after leading LSU in assists her first two seasons, believed she found a home as a central midfielder and began taking advantage of more scoring opportunities in the Tigers alignment.
The Crimson Tide jumped out to an early 2-0 with consecutive goals within the span of a minute before Alexander’s goal made it 2-1 in the 26th minute.
Alexander helped LSU dig itself out of a pair of two-goal deficits against Alabama, a match that also featured a lengthy weather delay, but the native of Reading Berkshire, England pulled the Tigers within 3-2 with her second goal in the 59th minute. LSU squared the match at 3-all in the 77th minute on Molly Thompson’s goal.
“Originally, I was just playing in a spot to benefit the team,” Alexander said of her positions at attacking midfielder, right back and forward in previous years. “It wasn’t really a place where I wanted to play but I felt it was best for the team and played there. This year I’m able to play in the position that I enjoy more which I was probably more successful than previously.”
Hudson said she’s moved Alexander because she wants to get the most out of someone she considers “a special player.”
“She’s really come alive in the last couple of weeks,” Hudson said of Alexander, the team’s leading scorer with three goals in six games. “I think she’s someone that has so much quality and her performing well in Orange Beach is certainly a critical piece.”
LSU took a bit of solace from the Alabama match, showing the ability to fight back from such an early deficit and play on even terms the final six minutes down a player with Maddie Moreau being sent off with a red card.
The Tigers outshot their opponent 16-12 and 9-7 in shots on goal and their season-goal three goals was the most allowed by the Crimson Tide this season.
The end result proved to be a recurring theme for LSU, though, which went 0-1-2 in three overtime matches and were 0-3 in the matches decided by one goal.
The Tigers, who had two assists apiece from Taylor Robles and Meghan Johnson, were outscored 14-6 for the season with four shutouts.
Sophomore goalie Mollee Swift was a steady presence on defense with 29 saves and a 70.7 save percentage.
“Hopefully, we’ll rectify the problems and issues that we had in the first game we played (against Alabama) and not come out as slow as we did,” Alexander said. “We’re going to the conference tournament with a clean slate, essentially a fresh start for us. Just forget what’s previously happened to us and moving forward, just thinking positively.
“Even in the 2018 season when we won the SEC, we still had a low percentage of winning the tournament. For us to be the underdogs and win was a big thing. It gives us hope that maybe we can actually do the same thing and replicate what we did in 2018 season.”
SEC HONORS: Sophomore center back Maya Gordon and forward Rammie Noel were both selected to the All-SEC’s second team which was released Thursday.
Gordon, who started in all eight of her team’s matches, logged a team-high 758 minutes, while Noel started in seven of eight matches and played in 598 minutes. The graduate of Acadiana High School contributed a goal in three shot attempts.