LSU’s soccer team may not have had a lot of reasons to celebrate their regular fall season under first-year coach Sian Hudson.
But the Tigers certainly didn’t want to forget the postseason run they put together under Hudson to finish the fall 2-7-2. They stormed through the first two rounds of the Southeastern Conference tournament and reached the semifinals where they fell to eighth-ranked Texas A&M, 1-0.
LSU looks for a carryover from its late-season fall finish to the start of a nine-game spring season Friday at home against Southern Mississippi at 3 p.m.
“The momentum we had through the SEC tournament and even against A&M that we lost, we came out of that feeling really good about the performance,” Hudson said. “I think the players and staff are ready to hit the ground running this Friday and use that SEC tournament run as a springboard to moving on to bigger and better things in the spring.”
LSU found itself thrust into a conference-only schedule of eight regular season matches last fall without benefit of having played exhibition contests amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tigers were 0-6-2 which included a 1-0 loss to Auburn in overtime, while tying Missouri and Alabama in consecutive outings.
By the time they reached the SEC’s postseason event in Orange Beach, LSU simply took off as the lowest-seeded team and registered consecutive wins over Alabama (2-0) and Ole Miss (2-1 in OT). The Tigers conceded a first-half goal in the 40th minute and rode that one-goal margin to victory.
“We’re really excited to get going, it was disappointing to end where we ended,” Hudson said. “We always knew it would take a handful games to have an understanding of who we were and what we had, the strengths and weaknesses of the players. It would have been nice to have had a couple of exhibition games as non-conference games.”
Because of the truncated fall season, the SEC opted to allow its league members the opportunity to play up to a maximum of nine matches in the spring.
Because of its overall two-win record to start the spring, LSU won’t have the chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in April. But Hudson expects to balance playing a significant number of players, especially those who didn’t receive significant minutes in the fall, in a variety of combinations with an eye toward this upcoming 2021 fall season.
“We’re going to try and find a good blend,” Hudson said. “We’ve used 17-18 players pretty consistently in the fall. We had a lot of freshmen we didn’t use. Players across the board have worked really hard in the winter coming back after the break, and we want to reward those kids with minutes and give them opportunities to show what they’re capable of in a competition setting.”
Hudson admitted that putting together a schedule in the spring, which typically contains five matches under a more developmental setting, proved quite challenging.
The SEC was one such Division I conference to conduct a fall season and five of LSU’s opponents – Auburn (4-4-2), South Alabama (10-4-1), Florida (2-7-1), Baylor (3-3-3), Texas Tech (2-5-2) and Texas (4-5) – also went through conference-only fall seasons.
Southern Mississippi (2-0) is one such school in the Conference USA playing a spring-only schedule and the Golden Eagles kicked off that season Feb. 3 with a 1-0 win at Nicholls State.
LSU will also host Southeastern Louisiana (1-0) on March 5 and Dallas Baptist (1-0) on March 12. The Tigers conclude their spring season April 9 with a home match against Texas (4-5).
“We tried to put together a blend of teams we think will be really challenging for us,” Hudson said. “Overall, we’re just excited to get going again, get back on the field and just continue this momentum we’ve built in the fall.”
LSU returns leading scorers from the fall in Tinaya Alexander (9 goals, 1 assist) and Taylor Dobles (3 goals, 2 assists) and goalie Mollee Swift (54 saves, 14 goals against, 1 shutout) among the headliners during the team’s SEC postseason run.
Hudson also pointed to standouts in the early training sessions, including half a scrimmage because of weather, such as forward Meghan Johnson (3 assists), All-SEC second team forward Rammie Noel and forward Savannah Mills.
She’s also looking forward to the return in March of senior midfielder Tiana Caffey from a torn ACL suffered in the fall.
“There’s some players really pushing the envelope to step up into bigger roles for us this spring,” Hudson. “Having her (Caffey) ball-winning ability and leadership skills will be good. We’re excited to see what she’s capable of.
“Typically, you play five games in the spring and it’s more of a friendly (exhibition) setting. We’re approaching this group as more of a competition season and having a full slate of games is going to give us an opportunity see where we’re really at after a full year together.”
2021 Spring Schedule
19 – Host Southern Mississippi, 3 p.m.
26 – at Auburn, 6:30 p.m.
28 – at South Alabama, 5 p.m.
5 – Host Southeastern Louisiana, 1 p.m.
12 – Host Dallas Baptist, 1 p.m.
14 – Vs. Florida at Orange Beach, Ala., Noon
18 – At Baylor, 7 p.m.
20 – Vs. Texas Tech at Dallas, TBA
9 – Host Texas, 7 p.m.