LSU’s spring soccer season progressed so well the Tigers didn’t want it to end.
Coach Sian Hudson’s team won six of eight spring matches with a big season finale scheduled April 9 vs. the University of Texas with the biggest Tigers’ home crowd of the season anticipated.
However, COVID-19 issues within Texas’ program cancelled the match as LSU’s 2020-21 fall/spring season ended with an 8-8-3 record.
“It’s been a really productive spring and I thought it would have been fantastic if we could have gone out with a big game at home like Texas,” said Hudson, who completed her first season with a team RPI of 54. “It was really unfortunate; the girls were devastated not getting to play. Once we all took a few days to reflect, I thought everybody was really happy with the progress that we made as a team.”
For perspective on the amount of ground LSU covered in the spring, consider the Tigers didn’t win a match during the SEC’s regular fall season, an eight-match schedule that included conference-only games.
However, the Tigers caught fire in the SEC postseason tournament with upsets of Alabama (2-0) and No. 14 Ole Miss (2-1 in overtime) and reached the quarterfinals before falling 1-0 to eighth-ranked Texas A&M.
“It was difficult from a confidence standout early in the fall to not get wins when we were trying to make those (style) changes,” said Hudson, whose team scored six goals in the fall with an increase to 11 in the spring. “I think the team felt the playing style was moving in the right direction and it was a case where we just couldn’t get goals or made mistakes that opponents were capitalizing on.”
The SEC proposed several different playing models in the spring – ranging from five conference-only games – before settling on a nine-game schedule that would be a blend of conference and non-conference matches.
It proved to be the perfect option for LSU to continue adapting to Hudson’s preferred possession-style of play, utilizing its athleticism and a developing defense led by junior center back Shannon Cooke and goalkeeper Mollee Swift.
“We wanted to give players that didn’t get a lot of playing time in the fall an opportunity to get on the field,” Hudson said. “Without games, it’s tough to make an accurate assessment of where each individual is at with their capability and where they’ve come from. I wanted to start the spring with some more winnable games just for their confidence coming off the fall and end the spring with a tough stretch of games to test us and where we’ve truly come.”
LSU’s spring schedule featured teams from seven different conferences and one Division II power in Dallas Baptist.
The Tigers seemed to pick right back up three months after their run in the SEC tournament, with a 3-0-1 mark in their first four matches that included a double overtime 0-0 draw at Auburn.
It was the second time the two teams went into overtime with Auburn scoring early in the overtime session in its Nov. 2 visit to Baton Rouge for a 1-0 verdict over the Tigers.
LSU’s lone setback came against Dallas Baptist, a team that finished its season April 13 with a 12-1-1 record following a loss in its conference championship game.
LSU led 1-0 in that match 1-0 when its leading scorer – Tinaya Alexander – was assessed a red card and sent off the field in the 39th minute. Dallas Baptist rallied with two goals in the second half for a 2-1 victory.
“Dallas Baptist is the best D-II team in the country, and that adversity and wake-up call was probably the catalyst for the following three results,” Hudson said. “We were moving in a good direction and had been the whole spring, but that was definitely a disappointing result for us.”
Not only did LSU have to turn around two days later and face SEC opponent Florida in a neutral site game in Orange Beach, Ala., the Tigers had to do so without Alexander and Maya Gordon, who also received a red card near the end of the Dallas Baptist game.
Junior Reese Moffatt scored her first goal of the season in the first half and junior Molly Thompson broke a 1-1 tie in the 88th minute on an assist from Maddie Moreau, giving the Tigers a 2-1 victory and their first win over the Gators in 10 years.
“We asked them to dig deep and do a lot of soul searching to come out and have that kind of performance against Florida, answer a lot of questions about the character of the team and whether we could fight when our backs are to the wall,” Hudson said.
That victory seemed to serve as the catalyst in the middle of March where the schedule ramped up for LSU, which was facing three straight matches against Big 12 Conference.
The Tigers registered consecutive 1-0 road victories over Baylor and Texas Tech, setting the scene for what had the earmarks of a special evening at LSU’s soccer stadium with Texas. But it never happened as the 7-5 Longhorns got taken down by COVID-19 protocols.
“The team’s goal heading into the spring was to win six of nine games and we were 6-1-1,” Hudson said. “I was disappointed we lost the Texas game because I think we could have finished up above .500. Now, they’ve had that taste of success and the competition within the team is at an all-time high. We have a good team atmosphere and morale heading into the fall.”
LSU is set to return all but one player (senior Courtney Henderson) for the 2021 season, but it’s a roster Hudson plans to continue adding to albeit incoming freshman signees or through the transfer portal.
Alexander led LSU in scoring with nine goals and three assists, including four goals in her last four games, while Thompson scored five goals, redshirt freshman Taylor Dobles three goals and Cooke two goals.
Junior Wasila Diwura-Soale had a team-high four assists followed by Baton Rouge native Meghan Johnson and Moreau, a native of Youngsville, with three each, while the Tigers will also return key players such as junior defender Reese Moffatt (1 goal, 1 assist) and senior midfielder Chiara Ritchie-Williams.
Swift, who had a 6-6-2 overall record, had 80 saves with four shutouts with freshman Bella Zanotelli (9 saves, 1 shutout) also gaining valuable playing experience in the spring.
Gordon and sophomore Rammie Noel were LSU’s lone representatives on the All-SEC’s postseason team as second-team selections.
“I’m so proud of the evolution of the team,” Hudson said. “When we got here, they didn’t know how to win and by the end of the spring, we had evolved into a team that could find ways to win. The confidence coming out of the spring is at a high. The team is just excited about the fall.”