Newly ranked LSU soccer has momentum heading into a two-match Arizona road swing, but Hurricane Ida’s impact on Louisiana not forgotten

Photo courtesy: LSU athletics.

What began as the first leg in a two-week, four-game road swing for LSU’s soccer season grew in significance.

Halfway through the jaunt, the Tigers emerged with a pair of wins over ranked opponents to earn a No. 17 ranking, the program’s first national ranking since 2018.

About the same time LSU kicked off its match last Sunday against No. 19 Central Florida, more than 700 miles away Hurricane Ida made landfall along the Louisiana coast. It lkeft plenty of devastation in its wake, including the Baton Rouge area.

Instead of being able to return home, the Tigers (4-0-0) flew directly Tuesday from Orlando to Phoenix where they’ll complete their road trip with games in Tempe, Ariz. Thursday at 3 p.m. against the University of Arizona (2-1) and Sunday at 4 p.m. against No. 21 Arizona State (4-0).

“It’s been an emotional few days for everybody with the highs that happened on the field and the lows of what happened at home,” LSU soccer coach Sian Hudson said.

Hudson said two of the team’s three players from the storm’s affected areas – Brooke Cutura of Pearl River and Britney Bertram of Slidell – returned home to assess damage and visit with their families before rejoining the team in Arizona for game preparations.

A third player, Molly Thompson from Houma, was also impacted by damage from the storm, but like Cutura and Bertram, didn’t suffer substantial damage.

“Trees were down, a little flooding,” Hudson said. “It’s difficult to comprehend. Everyone’s been rallying around them.”

LSU embarked on a trip entailing more than 4,400 miles with one simple goal — build on a promising start with a pair of home wins.

LSU was pushed to brink in its opening match at then-15th ranked USF in Tampa, overcoming an hour-long lightning delay in the second half and a charged-up home team to celebrate a 2-1 victory on Maddie Moreau’s goal with 31 seconds remaining on an assist from Rammie Noel.

Athena Kuehn staked LSU to a 1-0 lead with first-half goal.

“There was 31 seconds left on the clock and a belief in the team,” Hudson said. “We can create chances at any time and we’re spreading goals across the team at the moment. It was a great ball in the box by Rammie and Maddie had a great piece of composure to get the winner. It was a massive confidence builder going into Sunday.”

Three days later in Orlando and with news of Hurricane Ida bearing down on Louisiana, LSU methodically went out and got a goal in each half from Thompson and Tinaya Alexander for a 2-0 victory over then-No. 19 Central Florida for the program’s first back-to-back road wins over ranked opponents since 2011.

LSU had to overcome its own share of adversity before leaving for the Central Florida game.

With the team’s bus loaded with players, coaches and equipment, it never made it out of the hotel parking lot. A malfunction sent Hudson and her coaching staff into ‘scramble’ mode to find avenues to get everyone to UCF’s soccer field five minutes away.

“We had parents loading kids, we had about nine Ubers arriving and we’re trying to get the equipment off the bus,” Hudson said. “We tried to delay the kickoff, but they didn’t want to work with us. We asked for more (warm-up) time on the field but were told the sprinklers were coming on. We rolled with the punches and got down to business. That fueled the fire a little more. The girls took it in stride and dealt with its really well.”

The team retreated to its hotel with its attention on its home state, watching the proceedings of what proved to be a devastating storm that struck Louisiana’s coast and churned northward, inflicting its share of damage on Baton Rouge before later exiting the state.

“I thought we dominated the game from start to finish,” Hudson said. “It was pleasing to see that the concentration, the focus wasn’t affected. We talked about playing for those back home and everything it means to the people in Louisiana to see their teams doing well. In the grand scheme of things, a bus breaking down when people are back home dealing with a hurricane and the devastation was not a big deal.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Mollee Swift has gained national acclaim for her performance last week, allowing only one goal on a penalty kick in the win over USF. The native of Papillion, Neb., who totaled six saves, received the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week along with both the Top Drawer Soccer National Player of the Week on Tuesday and the United College Soccer Coaches National Player of the Week.

“It’s been a massive defensive effort across the whole team,” said Hudson, noting members of her backline: Shannon Cooke, Maya Gordon, Reese Moffatt, Grace Haggerty and Lindsi Jennings. “Mollee had two phenomenal saves against South Florida and another big one at a critical time against Central Florida. She brings a level of composure to us back there.”

LSU’s outscored its opposition 14-2 with Alexander leading the way with five goals and Alesia Garcia three. The Tigers have had seven different players score thus far.

The ended a three-year drought without a win over a ranked opponent in last year’s 2-1 overtime victory over No. 14 Ole Miss. They had only twice defeated two ranked teams in the same season and hadn’t accomplished that feat since 2011.

When it faces Arizona for the first time and Arizona State for the second time in school history, LSU looks to extend a seven-game win streak dating to the spring which would match the program’s best nine-game win streak established in 2002.

“We knew this was a big two-week stretch for us,” Hudson said. “The feeling in the camp is that this is a great start for us, but we’re certainly not going to rest on our laurels and look forward to the next game and the next opportunity to get out there against Arizona and continue what we started. I think we’ve turned a few heads in the last few days. We’ve got to focus on the moment, enjoy the journey. It’s been an enjoyable ride so far.”

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