Since being bounced from the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, LSU’s soccer team has taken advantage of the additional time to correct mistakes and re-focus for the postseason.
The Tigers (9-3-7) were rewarded for a competitive overall schedule that produced an RPI of No. 33 and resulted in the program’s first home match in the NCAA Tournament in four years.
LSU, the eighth seed, opens first-round action Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Southland Conference champion Lamar (15-1-2) where the Tigers will try and shatter the LSU Soccer Stadium record for attendance.
“I think 3,500 is our target,” LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson said. “Last year when we opened SEC play against Mississippi State, we had a little over 3,000 fans and it was just an unbelievable atmosphere. To have the opportunity to host and just have a huge, huge fan base behind us. (LSU women’s basketball coach) Kim Mulkey is sending the band to us. We’re just really excited to host, and I know that the Baton Rouge soccer community is going to come out, the student section and everybody’s just going to come on full force and support us.”
LSU is making its second straight appearance in the field under Hudson, but it is hoping for a longer stay this time around. The Tigers were eliminated in the first round of the 2021 tournament, losing a 3-0 decision, at Memphis.
“I think this team has shown over the course of the three years that I’ve been here, that anytime we’re up against it, we’ve got an opportunity to really push through,” Hudson said. “We’ve been training exceptionally well since we got back from Pensacola (site of the SEC Tournament). I think this little bit of a week off, has given us time to sort of time to reflect on some things that we needed to make adjustments and I think the team is in a really good place.”
The starting lineup LSU will put on the field against Lamar will look markedly different than at any time this season.
The Tigers have to play without senior starters Maya Gordon and Rammie Noel who were both ejected and received two-game suspensions for fighting in the team’s 3-0 loss in penalty kicks to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
Hudson believes one of the strengths of this year’s team has been its depth which will be tested with fifth-year senior defender Tilly Wilkes and freshman Jocelyn Ollivierre, who will be getting their third and fifth starts, respectively, of the season.
“Rammie and Maya had a huge amount of experience for years playing here and not having them is a loss for us, but I think we’ve shown all season long that we have a really deep team,” Hudson said. “I think that’s one of the beauties of having a deep team and having the willingness, and the confidence in lots of players and rotating them. That if you are in a situation where you lose players either to injury or to suspension, that is a seamless transition for those players to move into the lineup.”
Lamar is making its third trip to the NCAA Tournament and first in three years. First-year coach Nathan Kogut guided the Cardinals through a 10-1-1 record in league play and team’s current six-match winning streak includes the Southland Conference postseason tournament title and automatic bid.
Graduate student Christine Kitaru is the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals and six assists, while senior forward Cariel Ellis 10 goals and six assists. The Cardinals has outscored their opponents 39-6 this season.
“They’re a great team, they’ve had a ton of success this year,” Hudson said, whose program is 3-0 all-time against Lamar. “I think, Nathan, has done a fantastic job. I don’t think they’ve played the toughest schedule this year. I think we might be the first Power-5 team on their on their schedule.”
Hudson said freshman Ida Hermannsdottir, the team’s leading scorer with six goals and two assists, is expected back from a high ankle sprain. Fifth-year senior Alesia Garcia has scored five goals and junior Mollie Baker and freshman Sage Glover each with four apiece.
Senior goalkeeper Mollee Swift has five shutouts to her credit and 70 saves.
“I think it’s about who shows up on the day, and in that 90 minutes, who’s going to put their best foot forward and find ways to win and I think we’ve got a ton of experience in this team,” Hudson said. “Many players that have played in the NCAA Tournament previously and I expect that experience to shine through.”